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in America
Alexis de Tocqueville
Translator Henry Reeve

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Book One

In America

Special Introduction
Hon. John T. Morgan

Volume 1

In the eleven years that separated the Declaration of the Independence of the United States from the completion of that
act in the ordination of our written Constitution, the great
minds of America were bent upon the study of the principles of government that were essential to the preservation
of the liberties which had been won at great cost and with
heroic labors and sacrifices. Their studies were conducted in
view of the imperfections that experience had developed in
the government of the Confederation, and they were, therefore, practical and thorough.
When the Constitution was thus perfected and established,
a new form of government was created, but it was neither
speculative nor experimental as to the principles on which it


Alexis de Tocqueville
Translator Henry Reeve

Democracy in America
was based. If they were true principles, as they were, the government founded upon them was destined to a life and an
influence that would continue while the liberties it was intended to preserve should be valued by the human family.
Those liberties had been wrung from reluctant monarchs in
many contests, in many countries, and were grouped into
creeds and established in ordinances sealed with blood, in
many great struggles of the people. They were not new to
the people. They were consecrated theories, but no government had been previously established for the great purpose
of their preservation and enforcement. That which was experimental in our plan of government was the question
whether democratic rule could be so organized and conducted
that it would not degenerate into license and result in the
tyranny of absolutism, without saving to the people the power
so often found necessary of repressing or destroying their
enemy, when he was found in the person of a single despot.
When, in 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville came to study Democracy in America, the trial of nearly a half-century of the
working of our system had been made, and it had been
proved, by many crucial tests, to be a government of liberty

regulated by law, with such results in the development of

strength, in population, wealth, and military and commercial power, as no age had ever witnessed.
De Tocqueville had a special inquiry to prosecute, in his
visit to America, in which his generous and faithful soul and
the powers of his great intellect were engaged in the patriotic
effort to secure to the people of France the blessings that
Democracy in America had ordained and established
throughout nearly the entire Western Hemisphere. He had
read the story of the FrenchRevolution, much of which had
been recently written in the blood of men and women of
great distinction who were his progenitors; and had witnessed
the agitations and terrors of the Restoration and of the Second Republic, fruitful in crime and sacrifice, and barren of
any good to mankind.
He had just witnessed the spread of republican government through all the vast continental possessions of Spain in
America, and the loss of her great colonies. He had seen that
these revolutions were accomplished almost without the shedding of blood, and he was filled with anxiety to learn the
causes that had placed republican government, in France, in

such contrast with Democracy in America.
De Tocqueville was scarcely thirty years old when he began his studies of Democracy in America. It was a bold effort for one who had no special training in government, or
in the study of political economy, but he had the example of
Lafayette in establishing the military foundation of these liberties, and of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton,
all of whom were young men, in building upon the Independence of the United States that wisest and best plan of
general government that was ever devised for a free people.
He found that the American people, through their chosen
representatives who were instructed by their wisdom and
experience and were supported by their virtues cultivated,
purified and ennobled by self-reliance and the love of God
had matured, in the excellent wisdom of their counsels, a
new plan of government, which embraced every security for
their liberties and equal rights and privileges to all in the
pursuit of happiness. He came as an honest and impartial
student and his great commentary, like those of Paul, was
written for the benefit of all nations and people and in vindication of truths that will stand for their deliverance from

monarchical rule, while time shall last.

A French aristocrat of the purest strain of blood and of the
most honorable lineage, whose family influence was coveted
by crowned heads; who had no quarrel with the rulers of the
nation, and was secure against want by his inherited estates;
was moved by the agitations that compelled France to attempt to grasp suddenly the liberties and happiness we had
gained in our revolution and, by his devout love of France,
to search out and subject to the test of reason the basic principles of free government that had been embodied in our
Constitution. This was the mission of De Tocqueville, and
no mission was ever more honorably or justly conducted, or
concluded with greater eclat, or better results for the welfare
of mankind.
His researches were logical and exhaustive. They included
every phase of every question that then seemed to be apposite to the great inquiry he was making.
The judgment of all who have studied his commentaries
seems to have been unanimous, that his talents and learning
were fully equal to his task. He began with the physical geography of this country, and examined the characteristics of

Democracy in America
the people, of all races and conditions, their social and religious sentiments, their education and tastes; their industries,
their commerce, their local governments, their passions and
prejudices, and their ethics and literature; leaving nothing
unnoticed that might afford an argument to prove that our
plan and form of government was or was not adapted especially to a peculiar people, or that it would be impracticable
in any different country, or among any different people.
The pride and comfort that the American people enjoy in
the great commentaries of De Tocqueville are far removed
from the selfish adulation that comes from a great and singular success. It is the consciousness of victory over a false
theory of government which has afflicted mankind for many
ages, that gives joy to the true American, as it did to De
Tocqueville in his great triumph.
When De Tocqueville wrote, we had lived less than fifty
years under our Constitution. In that time no great national
commotion had occurred that tested its strength, or its power
of resistance to internal strife, such as had converted his beloved France into fields of slaughter torn by tempests of wrath.
He had a strong conviction that no government could be

ordained that could resist these internal forces, when, they

are directed to its destruction by bad men, or unreasoning
mobs, and many then believed, as some yet believe, that our
government is unequal to such pressure, when the assault is
thoroughly desperate.
Had De Tocqueville lived to examine the history of the
United States from 1860 to 1870, his misgivings as to this
power of self- preservation would, probably, have been cleared
off. He would have seen that, at the end of the most destructive civil war that ever occurred, when animosities of the
bitterest sort had banished all good feeling from the hearts
of our people, the States of the American Union, still in complete organization and equipped with all their official entourage, aligned themselves in their places and took up the powers and duties of local government in perfect order and without embarrassment. This would have dispelled his apprehensions, if he had any, about the power of the United States
to withstand the severest shocks of civil war. Could he have
traced the further course of events until they open the portals of the twentieth century, he would have cast away his
fears of our ability to restore peace, order, and prosperity, in

the face of any difficulties, and would have rejoiced to find
in the Constitution of the United States the remedy that is
provided for the healing of the nation.
De Tocqueville examined, with the care that is worthy the
importance of the subject, the nature and value of the system of local self-government, as we style this most important feature of our plan, and (as has often happened) when
this or any subject has become a matter of anxious concern,
his treatment of the questions is found to have been masterly and his preconceptions almost prophetic.
We are frequently indebted to him for able expositions
and true doctrines relating to subjects that have slumbered
in the minds of the people until they were suddenly forced
on our attention by unexpected events.
In his introductory chapter, M. De Tocqueville says:
Amongst the novel objects that attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, nothing struck me more
forcibly than the general equality of conditions. He referred,
doubtless, to social and political conditions among the people
of the white race, who are described as We, the people, in
the opening sentence of the Constitution. The last three

amendments of the Constitution have so changed this, that

those who were then negro slaves are clothed with the rights
of citizenship, including the right of suffrage. This was a
political party movement, intended to be radical and revolutionary, but it will, ultimately, react because it has not the
sanction of public opinion.
If M. De Tocqueville could now search for a law that would
negative this provision in its effect upon social equality, he
would fail to find it. But he would find it in the unwritten
law of the natural aversion of the races. He would find it in
public opinion, which is the vital force in every law in a free
government. This is a subject that our Constitution failed to
regulate, because it was not contemplated by its authors. It is
a question that will settle itself, without serious difficulty.
The equality in the suffrage, thus guaranteed to the negro
race, alone for it was not intended to include other colored
races -creates a new phase of political conditions that M. De
Tocqueville could not foresee. Yet, in his commendation of
the local town and county governments, he applauds and
sustains that elementary feature of our political organization
which, in the end, will render harmless this wide departure

Democracy in America
from the original plan and purpose of American Democracy. Local Self-Government, independent of general control, except for general purposes, is the root and origin of all
free republican government, and is the antagonist of all great
political combinations that threaten the rights of minorities.
It is the public opinion formed in the independent expressions of towns and other small civil districts that is the real
conservatism of free government. It is equally the enemy of
that dangerous evil, the corruption of the ballot-box, from
which it is now apprehended that one of our greatest troubles
is to arise.
The voter is selected, under our laws, because he has certain
physical qualifications age and sex. His disqualifications,
when any are imposed, relate to his education or property,
and to the fact that he has not been convicted of crime. Of all
men he should be most directly amenable to public opinion.
The test of moral character and devotion to the duties of
good citizenship are ignored in the laws, because the courts
can seldom deal with such questions in a uniform and satisfactory way, under rules that apply alike to all. Thus the voter,
selected by law to represent himself and four other non-vot-

ing citizens, is often a person who is unfit for any public

duty or trust. In a town government, having a small area of
jurisdiction, where the voice of the majority of qualified voters is conclusive, the fitness of the person who is to exercise
that high representative privilege can be determined by his
neighbors and acquaintances, and, in the great majority of
cases, it will be decided honestly and for the good of the
country. In such meetings, there is always a spirit of loyalty
to the State, because that is loyalty to the people, and a reverence for God that gives weight to the duties and responsibilities of citizenship.
M. De Tocqueville found in these minor local jurisdictions
the theoretical conservatism which, in the aggregate, is the
safest reliance of the State. So we have found them, in practice, the true protectors of the purity of the ballot, without
which all free government will degenerate into absolutism.
In the future of the Republic, we must encounter many
difficult and dangerous situations, but the principles established in the Constitution and the check upon hasty or inconsiderate legislation, and upon executive action, and the
supreme arbitrament of the courts, will be found sufficient


Special Introduction
Hon. John J. Ingalls

for the safety of personal rights, and for the safety of the
government, and the prophetic outlook of M. De Tocqueville
will be fully realized through the influence of Democracy in
America. Each succeeding generation of Americans will find
in the pure and impartial reflections of De Tocqueville a new
source of pride in our institutions of government, and sound
reasons for patriotic effort to preserve them and to inculcate
their teachings. They have mastered the power of monarchical rule in the American Hemisphere, freeing religion from
all shackles, and will spread, by a quiet but resistless influence, through the islands of the seas to other lands, where
the appeals of De Tocqueville for human rights and liberties
have already inspired the souls of the people.

Nearly two-thirds of a century has elapsed since the appearance of Democracy in America, by Alexis Charles Henri
Clerel de Tocqueville, a French nobleman, born at Paris, July
29, 1805.
Bred to the law, he exhibited an early predilection for philosophy and political economy, and at twenty-two was appointed judge-auditor at the tribunal of Versailles.
In 1831, commissioned ostensibly to investigate the penitentiary system of the United States, he visited this country,
with his friend, Gustave de Beaumont, travelling extensively
through those parts of the Republic then subdued to settlement, studying the methods of local, State, and national administration, and observing the manners and habits, the daily
life, the business, the industries and occupations of the people.
Democracy in America, the first of four volumes upon
American Institutions and their Influence, was published
in 1835. It was received at once by the scholars and thinkers

Hon. John T. Morgan

Democracy in America
of Europe as a profound, impartial, and entertaining exposition of the principles of popular, representative self-government.
Napoleon, The mighty somnambulist of a vanished
dream, had abolished feudalism and absolutism, made
monarchs and dynasties obsolete, and substituted for the
divine right of kings the sovereignty of the people.
Although by birth and sympathies an aristocrat, M. de
Tocqueville saw that the reign of tradition and privilege at
last was ended. He perceived that civilization, after many
bloody centuries, had entered a new epoch. He beheld, and
deplored, the excesses that had attended the genesis of the
democratic spirit in France, and while he loved liberty, he
detested the crimes that had been committed in its name.
Belonging neither to the class which regarded the social revolution as an innovation to be resisted, nor to that which considered political equality the universal panacea for the evils
of humanity, he resolved by personal observation of the results of democracy in the New World to ascertain its natural
consequences, and to learn what the nations of Europe had
to hope or fear from its final supremacy.

That a youth of twenty-six should entertain a design so

broad and bold implies singular intellectual intrepidity. He
had neither model nor precedent. The vastness and novelty
of the undertaking increase admiration for the remarkable
ability with which the task was performed.
Were literary excellence the sole claim of Democracy in
America to distinction, the splendor of its composition alone
would entitle it to high place among the masterpieces of the
century. The first chapter, upon the exterior form of North
America, as the theatre upon which the great drama is to be
enacted, for graphic and picturesque description of the physical characteristics of the continent is not surpassed in literature: nor is there any subdivision of the work in which the
severest philosophy is not invested with the grace of poetry,
and the driest statistics with the charm of romance. Western
emigration seemed commonplace and prosaic till M. de
Tocqueville said, This gradual and continuous progress of
the European race toward the Rocky Mountains has the solemnity of a providential event; it is like a deluge of men
rising unabatedly, and daily driven onward by the hand of

The mind of M. de Tocqueville had the candor of the photographic camera. It recorded impressions with the impartiality of nature. The image was sometimes distorted, and
the perspective was not always true, but he was neither a
panegyrist, nor an advocate, nor a critic. He observed American phenomena as illustrations, not as proof nor arguments;
and although it is apparent that the tendency of his mind
was not wholly favorable to the democratic principle, yet
those who dissent from his conclusions must commend the
ability and courage with which they are expressed.
Though not originally written for Americans, Democracy in America must always remain a work of engrossing
and constantly increasing interest to citizens of the United
States as the first philosophic and comprehensive view of
our society, institutions, and destiny. No one can rise even
from the most cursory perusal without clearer insight and
more patriotic appreciation of the blessings of liberty protected by law, nor without encouragement for the stability
and perpetuity of the Republic. The causes which appeared
to M. de Tocqueville to menace both, have gone. The despotism of public opinion, the tyranny of majorities, the ab-

sence of intellectual freedom which seemed to him to degrade administration and bring statesmanship, learning, and
literature to the level of the lowest, are no longer considered.
The violence of party spirit has been mitigated, and the judgment of the wise is not subordinated to the prejudices of the
Other dangers have come. Equality of conditions no longer
exists. Prophets of evil predict the downfall of democracy,
but the student of M. de Tocqueville will find consolation
and encouragement in the reflection that the same spirit
which has vanquished the perils of the past, which he foresaw, will be equally prepared for the responsibilities of the
present and the future.
The last of the four volumes of M. de Tocquevilles work
upon American institutions appeared in 1840.
In 1838 he was chosen member of the Academy of Moral
and Political Sciences. In 1839 he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies. He became a member of the French Academy in 1841. In 1848 he was in the Assembly, and from
June 2nd to October 31st he was Minister of Foreign Affairs. The coup detat of December 2, 1851 drove him from

Democracy in America

Introductory Chapter

the public service. In 1856 he published The Old Regime

and the Revolution. He died at Cannes, April 15, 1859, at
the age of fifty-four.

Amongst the novel objects that attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, nothing struck me more
forcibly than the general equality of conditions. I readily discovered the prodigious influence which this primary fact
exercises on the whole course of society, by giving a certain
direction to public opinion, and a certain tenor to the laws;
by imparting new maxims to the governing powers, and peculiar habits to the governed. I speedily perceived that the
influence of this fact extends far beyond the political character and the laws of the country, and that it has no less empire
over civil society than over the Government; it creates opinions, engenders sentiments, suggests the ordinary practices
of life, and modifies whatever it does not produce. The more
I advanced in the study of American society, the more I perceived that the equality of conditions is the fundamental fact
from which all others seem to be derived, and the central
point at which all my observations constantly terminated.
I then turned my thoughts to our own hemisphere, where
I imagined that I discerned something analogous to the spec-

Hon. John J. Ingalls


tacle which the New World presented to me. I observed that
the equality of conditions is daily progressing towards those
extreme limits which it seems to have reached in the United
States, and that the democracy which governs the American
communities appears to be rapidly rising into power in Europe. I hence conceived the idea of the book which is now
before the reader.
It is evident to all alike that a great democratic revolution
is going on amongst us; but there are two opinions as to its
nature and consequences. To some it appears to be a novel
accident, which as such may still be checked; to others it
seems irresistible, because it is the most uniform, the most
ancient, and the most permanent tendency which is to be
found in history. Let us recollect the situation of France seven
hundred years ago, when the territory was divided amongst
a small number of families, who were the owners of the soil
and the rulers of the inhabitants; the right of governing descended with the family inheritance from generation to generation; force was the only means by which man could act
on man, and landed property was the sole source of power.
Soon, however, the political power of the clergy was founded,

and began to exert itself: the clergy opened its ranks to all
classes, to the poor and the rich, the villein and the lord;
equality penetrated into the Government through the
Church, and the being who as a serf must have vegetated in
perpetual bondage took his place as a priest in the midst of
nobles, and not infrequently above the heads of kings.
The different relations of men became more complicated
and more numerous as society gradually became more stable
and more civilized. Thence the want of civil laws was felt;
and the order of legal functionaries soon rose from the obscurity of the tribunals and their dusty chambers, to appear
at the court of the monarch, by the side of the feudal barons
in their ermine and their mail. Whilst the kings were ruining themselves by their great enterprises, and the nobles exhausting their resources by private wars, the lower orders
were enriching themselves by commerce. The influence of
money began to be perceptible in State affairs. The transactions of business opened a new road to power, and the financier rose to a station of political influence in which he was at
once flattered and despised. Gradually the spread of mental
acquirements, and the increasing taste for literature and art,

Democracy in America
opened chances of success to talent; science became a means
of government, intelligence led to social power, and the man
of letters took a part in the affairs of the State. The value
attached to the privileges of birth decreased in the exact proportion in which new paths were struck out to advancement.
In the eleventh century nobility was beyond all price; in the
thirteenth it might be purchased; it was conferred for the
first time in 1270; and equality was thus introduced into the
Government by the aristocracy itself.
In the course of these seven hundred years it sometimes
happened that in order to resist the authority of the Crown,
or to diminish the power of their rivals, the nobles granted a
certain share of political rights to the people. Or, more frequently, the king permitted the lower orders to enjoy a degree of power, with the intention of repressing the aristocracy. In France the kings have always been the most active
and the most constant of levellers. When they were strong
and ambitious they spared no pains to raise the people to the
level of the nobles; when they were temperate or weak they
allowed the people to rise above themselves. Some assisted
the democracy by their talents, others by their vices. Louis

XI and Louis XIV reduced every rank beneath the throne to

the same subjection; Louis XV descended, himself and all
his Court, into the dust.
As soon as land was held on any other than a feudal tenure, and personal property began in its turn to confer influence and power, every improvement which was introduced
in commerce or manufacture was a fresh element of the equality of conditions. Henceforward every new discovery, every
new want which it engendered, and every new desire which
craved satisfaction, was a step towards the universal level.
The taste for luxury, the love of war, the sway of fashion, and
the most superficial as well as the deepest passions of the
human heart, co-operated to enrich the poor and to impoverish the rich.
From the time when the exercise of the intellect became
the source of strength and of wealth, it is impossible not to
consider every addition to science, every fresh truth, and every
new idea as a germ of power placed within the reach of the
people. Poetry, eloquence, and memory, the grace of wit, the
glow of imagination, the depth of thought, and all the gifts
which are bestowed by Providence with an equal hand, turned

to the advantage of the democracy; and even when they were
in the possession of its adversaries they still served its cause
by throwing into relief the natural greatness of man; its conquests spread, therefore, with those of civilization and knowledge, and literature became an arsenal where the poorest and
the weakest could always find weapons to their hand.
In perusing the pages of our history, we shall scarcely meet
with a single great event, in the lapse of seven hundred years,
which has not turned to the advantage of equality. The Crusades and the wars of the English decimated the nobles and
divided their possessions; the erection of communities introduced an element of democratic liberty into the bosom of
feudal monarchy; the invention of fire-arms equalized the
villein and the noble on the field of battle; printing opened
the same resources to the minds of all classes; the post was
organized so as to bring the same information to the door of
the poor mans cottage and to the gate of the palace; and
Protestantism proclaimed that all men are alike able to find
the road to heaven. The discovery of America offered a thousand new paths to fortune, and placed riches and power
within the reach of the adventurous and the obscure. If we

examine what has happened in France at intervals of fifty

years, beginning with the eleventh century, we shall invariably perceive that a twofold revolution has taken place in the
state of society. The noble has gone down on the social ladder, and the roturier has gone up; the one descends as the
other rises. Every half century brings them nearer to each
other, and they will very shortly meet.
Nor is this phenomenon at all peculiar to France.
Whithersoever we turn our eyes we shall witness the same
continual revolution throughout the whole of Christendom.
The various occurrences of national existence have everywhere turned to the advantage of democracy; all men have
aided it by their exertions: those who have intentionally labored in its cause, and those who have served it unwittingly;
those who have fought for it and those who have declared
themselves its opponents, have all been driven along in the
same track, have all labored to one end, some ignorantly and
some unwillingly; all have been blind instruments in the
hands of God.
The gradual development of the equality of conditions is
therefore a providential fact, and it possesses all the charac15

Democracy in America
teristics of a divine decree: it is universal, it is durable, it
constantly eludes all human interference, and all events as
well as all men contribute to its progress. Would it, then, be
wise to imagine that a social impulse which dates from so far
back can be checked by the efforts of a generation? Is it credible that the democracy which has annihilated the feudal
system and vanquished kings will respect the citizen and the
capitalist? Will it stop now that it has grown so strong and
its adversaries so weak? None can say which way we are going, for all terms of comparison are wanting: the equality of
conditions is more complete in the Christian countries of
the present day than it has been at any time or in any part of
the world; so that the extent of what already exists prevents
us from foreseeing what may be yet to come.
The whole book which is here offered to the public has
been written under the impression of a kind of religious dread
produced in the authors mind by the contemplation of so
irresistible a revolution, which has advanced for centuries in
spite of such amazing obstacles, and which is still proceeding in the midst of the ruins it has made. It is not necessary
that God himself should speak in order to disclose to us the

unquestionable signs of His will; we can discern them in the

habitual course of nature, and in the invariable tendency of
events: I know, without a special revelation, that the planets
move in the orbits traced by the Creators finger. If the men
of our time were led by attentive observation and by sincere
reflection to acknowledge that the gradual and progressive
development of social equality is at once the past and future
of their history, this solitary truth would confer the sacred
character of a Divine decree upon the change. To attempt to
check democracy would be in that case to resist the will of
God; and the nations would then be constrained to make
the best of the social lot awarded to them by Providence.
The Christian nations of our age seem to me to present a
most alarming spectacle; the impulse which is bearing them
along is so strong that it cannot be stopped, but it is not yet
so rapid that it cannot be guided: their fate is in their hands;
yet a little while and it may be so no longer. The first duty
which is at this time imposed upon those who direct our
affairs is to educate the democracy; to warm its faith, if that
be possible; to purify its morals; to direct its energies; to substitute a knowledge of business for its inexperience, and an

acquaintance with its true interests for its blind propensities;
to adapt its government to time and place, and to modify it
in compliance with the occurrences and the actors of the
age. A new science of politics is indispensable to a new world.
This, however, is what we think of least; launched in the
middle of a rapid stream, we obstinately fix our eyes on the
ruins which may still be described upon the shore we have
left, whilst the current sweeps us along, and drives us backwards towards the gulf.
In no country in Europe has the great social revolution
which I have been describing made such rapid progress as in
France; but it has always been borne on by chance. The heads
of the State have never had any forethought for its exigencies, and its victories have been obtained without their consent or without their knowledge. The most powerful, the
most intelligent, and the most moral classes of the nation
have never attempted to connect themselves with it in order
to guide it. The people has consequently been abandoned to
its wild propensities, and it has grown up like those outcasts
who receive their education in the public streets, and who
are unacquainted with aught but the vices and wretchedness

of society. The existence of a democracy was seemingly unknown, when on a sudden it took possession of the supreme
power. Everything was then submitted to its caprices; it was
worshipped as the idol of strength; until, when it was enfeebled
by its own excesses, the legislator conceived the rash project of
annihilating its power, instead of instructing it and correcting
its vices; no attempt was made to fit it to govern, but all were
bent on excluding it from the government.
The consequence of this has been that the democratic revolution has been effected only in the material parts of society,
without that concomitant change in laws, ideas, customs,
and manners which was necessary to render such a revolution beneficial. We have gotten a democracy, but without
the conditions which lessen its vices and render its natural
advantages more prominent; and although we already perceive the evils it brings, we are ignorant of the benefits it
may confer.
While the power of the Crown, supported by the aristocracy, peaceably governed the nations of Europe, society possessed, in the midst of its wretchedness, several different advantages which can now scarcely be appreciated or conceived.

Democracy in America
The power of a part of his subjects was an insurmountable
barrier to the tyranny of the prince; and the monarch, who
felt the almost divine character which he enjoyed in the eyes
of the multitude, derived a motive for the just use of his
power from the respect which he inspired. High as they were
placed above the people, the nobles could not but take that
calm and benevolent interest in its fate which the shepherd
feels towards his flock; and without acknowledging the poor
as their equals, they watched over the destiny of those whose
welfare Providence had entrusted to their care. The people
never having conceived the idea of a social condition different from its own, and entertaining no expectation of ever
ranking with its chiefs, received benefits from them without
discussing their rights. It grew attached to them when they
were clement and just, and it submitted without resistance
or servility to their exactions, as to the inevitable visitations
of the arm of God. Custom, and the manners of the time,
had moreover created a species of law in the midst of violence, and established certain limits to oppression. As the
noble never suspected that anyone would attempt to deprive
him of the privileges which he believed to be legitimate, and

as the serf looked upon his own inferiority as a consequence

of the immutable order of nature, it is easy to imagine that a
mutual exchange of good-will took place between two classes
so differently gifted by fate. Inequality and wretchedness were
then to be found in society; but the souls of neither rank of
men were degraded. Men are not corrupted by the exercise
of power or debased by the habit of obedience, but by the
exercise of a power which they believe to be illegal and by
obedience to a rule which they consider to be usurped and
oppressive. On one side was wealth, strength, and leisure,
accompanied by the refinements of luxury, the elegance of
taste, the pleasures of wit, and the religion of art. On the
other was labor and a rude ignorance; but in the midst of
this coarse and ignorant multitude it was not uncommon to
meet with energetic passions, generous sentiments, profound
religious convictions, and independent virtues. The body of
a State thus organized might boast of its stability, its power,
and, above all, of its glory.
But the scene is now changed, and gradually the two ranks
mingle; the divisions which once severed mankind are lowered, property is divided, power is held in common, the light

of intelligence spreads, and the capacities of all classes are
equally cultivated; the State becomes democratic, and the
empire of democracy is slowly and peaceably introduced into
the institutions and the manners of the nation. I can conceive a society in which all men would profess an equal attachment and respect for the laws of which they are the common authors; in which the authority of the State would be
respected as necessary, though not as divine; and the loyalty
of the subject to its chief magistrate would not be a passion,
but a quiet and rational persuasion. Every individual being
in the possession of rights which he is sure to retain, a kind
of manly reliance and reciprocal courtesy would arise between all classes, alike removed from pride and meanness.
The people, well acquainted with its true interests, would
allow that in order to profit by the advantages of society it is
necessary to satisfy its demands. In this state of things the
voluntary association of the citizens might supply the individual exertions of the nobles, and the community would be
alike protected from anarchy and from oppression.
I admit that, in a democratic State thus constituted, society will not be stationary; but the impulses of the social body

may be regulated and directed forwards; if there be less splendor than in the halls of an aristocracy, the contrast of misery
will be less frequent also; the pleasures of enjoyment may be
less excessive, but those of comfort will be more general; the
sciences may be less perfectly cultivated, but ignorance will
be less common; the impetuosity of the feelings will be repressed, and the habits of the nation softened; there will be
more vices and fewer crimes. In the absence of enthusiasm
and of an ardent faith, great sacrifices may be obtained from
the members of a commonwealth by an appeal to their understandings and their experience; each individual will feel
the same necessity for uniting with his fellow-citizens to protect his own weakness; and as he knows that if they are to
assist he must co-operate, he will readily perceive that his
personal interest is identified with the interest of the community. The nation, taken as a whole, will be less brilliant,
less glorious, and perhaps less strong; but the majority of the
citizens will enjoy a greater degree of prosperity, and the
people will remain quiet, not because it despairs of amelioration, but because it is conscious of the advantages of its
condition. If all the consequences of this state of things were

Democracy in America
not good or useful, society would at least have appropriated
all such as were useful and good; and having once and for
ever renounced the social advantages of aristocracy, mankind would enter into possession of all the benefits which
democracy can afford.
But here it may be asked what we have adopted in the
place of those institutions, those ideas, and those customs of
our forefathers which we have abandoned. The spell of royalty is broken, but it has not been succeeded by the majesty
of the laws; the people has learned to despise all authority,
but fear now extorts a larger tribute of obedience than that
which was formerly paid by reverence and by love.
I perceive that we have destroyed those independent beings which were able to cope with tyranny single-handed;
but it is the Government that has inherited the privileges of
which families, corporations, and individuals have been deprived; the weakness of the whole community has therefore
succeeded that influence of a small body of citizens, which,
if it was sometimes oppressive, was often conservative. The
division of property has lessened the distance which separated the rich from the poor; but it would seem that the

nearer they draw to each other, the greater is their mutual

hatred, and the more vehement the envy and the dread with
which they resist each others claims to power; the notion of
Right is alike insensible to both classes, and Force affords to
both the only argument for the present, and the only guarantee for the future. The poor man retains the prejudices of
his forefathers without their faith, and their ignorance without their virtues; he has adopted the doctrine of self-interest
as the rule of his actions, without understanding the science
which controls it, and his egotism is no less blind than his
devotedness was formerly. If society is tranquil, it is not because it relies upon its strength and its well-being, but because it knows its weakness and its infirmities; a single effort
may cost it its life; everybody feels the evil, but no one has
courage or energy enough to seek the cure; the desires, the
regret, the sorrows, and the joys of the time produce nothing
that is visible or permanent, like the passions of old men
which terminate in impotence.
We have, then, abandoned whatever advantages the old
state of things afforded, without receiving any compensation from our present condition; we have destroyed an aris20

tocracy, and we seem inclined to survey its ruins with complacency, and to fix our abode in the midst of them.
The phenomena which the intellectual world presents are
not less deplorable. The democracy of France, checked in its
course or abandoned to its lawless passions, has overthrown
whatever crossed its path, and has shaken all that it has not
destroyed. Its empire on society has not been gradually introduced or peaceably established, but it has constantly advanced in the midst of disorder and the agitation of a conflict. In the heat of the struggle each partisan is hurried beyond the limits of his opinions by the opinions and the excesses of his opponents, until he loses sight of the end of his
exertions, and holds a language which disguises his real sentiments or secret instincts. Hence arises the strange confusion which we are witnessing. I cannot recall to my mind a
passage in history more worthy of sorrow and of pity than
the scenes which are happening under our eyes; it is as if the
natural bond which unites the opinions of man to his tastes
and his actions to his principles was now broken; the sympathy which has always been acknowledged between the feelings and the ideas of mankind appears to be dissolved, and

all the laws of moral analogy to be dissolved, and all the laws
of moral analogy to be abolished.
Zealous Christians may be found amongst us whose minds
are nurtured in the love and knowledge of a future life, and
who readily espouse the cause of human liberty as the source
of all moral greatness. Christianity, which has declared that
all men are equal in the sight of God, will not refuse to acknowledge that all citizens are equal in the eye of the law.
But, by a singular concourse of events, religion is entangled
in those institutions which democracy assails, and it is not
unfrequently brought to reject the equality it loves, and to
curse that cause of liberty as a foe which it might hallow by
its alliance.
By the side of these religious men I discern others whose
looks are turned to the earth more than to Heaven; they are
the partisans of liberty, not only as the source of the noblest
virtues, but more especially as the root of all solid advantages; and they sincerely desire to extend its sway, and to
impart its blessings to mankind. It is natural that they should
hasten to invoke the assistance of religion, for they must know
that liberty cannot be established without morality, nor

Democracy in America
morality without faith; but they have seen religion in the
ranks of their adversaries, and they inquire no further; some
of them attack it openly, and the remainder are afraid to
defend it.
In former ages slavery has been advocated by the venal
and slavish-minded, whilst the independent and the warmhearted were struggling without hope to save the liberties of
mankind. But men of high and generous characters are now
to be met with, whose opinions are at variance with their
inclinations, and who praise that servility which they have
themselves never known. Others, on the contrary, speak in
the name of liberty, as if they were able to feel its sanctity
and its majesty, and loudly claim for humanity those rights
which they have always disowned. There are virtuous and
peaceful individuals whose pure morality, quiet habits, affluence, and talents fit them to be the leaders of the surrounding population; their love of their country is sincere,
and they are prepared to make the greatest sacrifices to its
welfare, but they confound the abuses of civilization with its
benefits, and the idea of evil is inseparable in their minds
from that of novelty.

Not far from this class is another party, whose object is to

materialize mankind, to hit upon what is expedient without
heeding what is just, to acquire knowledge without faith,
and prosperity apart from virtue; assuming the title of the
champions of modern civilization, and placing themselves
in a station which they usurp with insolence, and from which
they are driven by their own unworthiness. Where are we
then? The religionists are the enemies of liberty, and the
friends of liberty attack religion; the high- minded and the
noble advocate subjection, and the meanest and most servile
minds preach independence; honest and enlightened citizens are opposed to all progress, whilst men without patriotism and without principles are the apostles of civilization
and of intelligence. Has such been the fate of the centuries
which have preceded our own? and has man always inhabited a world like the present, where nothing is linked together, where virtue is without genius, and genius without
honor; where the love of order is confounded with a taste for
oppression, and the holy rites of freedom with a contempt
of law; where the light thrown by conscience on human actions is dim, and where nothing seems to be any longer for22

bidden or allowed, honorable or shameful, false or true? I
cannot, however, believe that the Creator made man to leave
him in an endless struggle with the intellectual miseries which
surround us: God destines a calmer and a more certain future to the communities of Europe; I am unacquainted with
His designs, but I shall not cease to believe in them because
I cannot fathom them, and I had rather mistrust my own
capacity than His justice.
There is a country in the world where the great revolution
which I am speaking of seems nearly to have reached its natural limits; it has been effected with ease and simplicity, say
rather that this country has attained the consequences of the
democratic revolution which we are undergoing without
having experienced the revolution itself. The emigrants who
fixed themselves on the shores of America in the beginning
of the seventeenth century severed the democratic principle
from all the principles which repressed it in the old communities of Europe, and transplanted it unalloyed to the New
World. It has there been allowed to spread in perfect freedom, and to put forth its consequences in the laws by influencing the manners of the country.

It appears to me beyond a doubt that sooner or later we

shall arrive, like the Americans, at an almost complete equality
of conditions. But I do not conclude from this that we shall
ever be necessarily led to draw the same political consequences
which the Americans have derived from a similar social organization. I am far from supposing that they have chosen
the only form of government which a democracy may adopt;
but the identity of the efficient cause of laws and manners in
the two countries is sufficient to account for the immense
interest we have in becoming acquainted with its effects in
each of them.
It is not, then, merely to satisfy a legitimate curiosity that
I have examined America; my wish has been to find instruction by which we may ourselves profit. Whoever should imagine that I have intended to write a panegyric will perceive
that such was not my design; nor has it been my object to
advocate any form of government in particular, for I am of
opinion that absolute excellence is rarely to be found in any
legislation; I have not even affected to discuss whether the
social revolution, which I believe to be irresistible, is advantageous or prejudicial to mankind; I have acknowledged this

Democracy in America
revolution as a fact already accomplished or on the eve of its
accomplishment; and I have selected the nation, from
amongst those which have undergone it, in which its development has been the most peaceful and the most complete,
in order to discern its natural consequences, and, if it be
possible, to distinguish the means by which it may be rendered profitable. I confess that in America I saw more than
America; I sought the image of democracy itself, with its
inclinations, its character, its prejudices, and its passions, in
order to learn what we have to fear or to hope from its
In the first part of this work I have attempted to show the
tendency given to the laws by the democracy of America,
which is abandoned almost without restraint to its instinctive propensities, and to exhibit the course it prescribes to
the Government and the influence it exercises on affairs. I
have sought to discover the evils and the advantages which it
produces. I have examined the precautions used by the Americans to direct it, as well as those which they have not adopted,
and I have undertaken to point out the causes which enable
it to govern society. I do not know whether I have succeeded

in making known what I saw in America, but I am certain

that such has been my sincere desire, and that I have never,
knowingly, moulded facts to ideas, instead of ideas to facts.
Whenever a point could be established by the aid of written documents, I have had recourse to the original text, and
to the most authentic and approved works. I have cited my
authorities in the notes, and anyone may refer to them.
Whenever an opinion, a political custom, or a remark on the
manners of the country was concerned, I endeavored to consult the most enlightened men I met with. If the point in
question was important or doubtful, I was not satisfied with
one testimony, but I formed my opinion on the evidence of
several witnesses. Here the reader must necessarily believeme
upon my word. I could frequently have quoted names which
are either known to him, or which deserve to be so, in proof
of what I advance; but I have carefully abstained from this
practice. A stranger frequently hears important truths at the
fire-side of his host, which the latter would perhaps conceal
from the ear of friendship; he consoles himself with his guest
for the silence to which he is restricted, and the shortness of
the travellers stay takes away all fear of his indiscretion. I

carefully noted every conversation of this nature as soon as it
occurred, but these notes will never leave my writing-case; I
had rather injure the success of my statements than add my
name to the list of those strangers who repay the generous
hospitality they have received by subsequent chagrin and
I am aware that, notwithstanding my care, nothing will be
easier than to criticise this book, if anyone ever chooses to
criticise it. Those readers who may examine it closely will
discover the fundamental idea which connects the several
parts together. But the diversity of the subjects I have had to
treat is exceedingly great, and it will not be difficult to oppose an isolated fact to the body of facts which I quote, or an
isolated idea to the body of ideas I put forth. I hope to be
read in the spirit which has guided my labors, and that my
book may be judged by the general impression it leaves, as I
have formed my own judgment not on any single reason,
but upon the mass of evidence. It must not be forgotten that
the author who wishes to be understood is obliged to push
all his ideas to their utmost theoretical consequences, and
often to the verge of what is false or impracticable; for if it be

necessary sometimes to quit the rules of logic in active life,

such is not the case in discourse, and a man finds that almost
as many difficulties spring from inconsistency of language as
usually arise from inconsistency of conduct.
I conclude by pointing out myself what many readers will
consider the principal defect of the work. This book is written to favor no particular views, and in composing it I have
entertained no designs of serving or attacking any party; I
have undertaken not to see differently, but to look further
than parties, and whilst they are busied for the morrow I
have turned my thoughts to the Future.


Democracy in America

Chapter I: Exterior Form Of North America

objects and the prodigious variety of scenes. This continent

is divided, almost equally, into two vast regions, one of which
is bounded on the north by the Arctic Pole, and by the two
great oceans on the east and west. It stretches towards the
south, forming a triangle whose irregular sides meet at length
below the great lakes of Canada. The second region begins
where the other terminates, and includes all the remainder
of the continent. The one slopes gently towards the Pole, the
other towards the Equator.
The territory comprehended in the first region descends
towards the north with so imperceptible a slope that it may
almost be said to form a level plain. Within the bounds of
this immense tract of country there are neither high mountains nor deep valleys. Streams meander through it irregularly: great rivers mix their currents, separate and meet again,
disperse and form vast marshes, losing all trace of their channels in the labyrinth of waters they have themselves created;
and thus, at length, after innumerable windings, fall into the
Polar Seas. The great lakes which bound this first region are
not walled in, like most of those in the Old World, between
hills and rocks. Their banks are flat, and rise but a few feet

Chapter Summary
North America divided into two vast regions, one inclining
towards the Pole, the other towards the Equator Valley of
the Mississippi Traces of the Revolutions of the Globe
Shore of the Atlantic Ocean where the English Colonies were
founded -Difference in the appearance of North and of South
America at the time of their Discovery Forests of North
America Prairies -Wandering Tribes of Natives Their outward appearance, manners, and language Traces of an unknown people.

Exterior Form Of North America

North America presents in its external form certain general
features which it is easy to discriminate at the first glance. A
sort of methodical order seems to have regulated the separation of land and water, mountains and valleys. A simple, but
grand, arrangement is discoverable amidst the confusion of

above the level of their waters; each of them thus forming a
vast bowl filled to the brim. The slightest change in the structure of the globe would cause their waters to rush either towards the Pole or to the tropical sea.
The second region is more varied on its surface, and better
suited for the habitation of man. Two long chains of mountains
divide it from one extreme to the other; the Alleghany ridge
takes the form of the shores of the Atlantic Ocean; the other is
parallel with the Pacific. The space which lies between these
two chains of mountains contains 1,341,649 square miles.* Its
surface is therefore about six times as great as that of France.
This vast territory, however, forms a single valley, one side of
which descends gradually from the rounded summits of the
Alleghanies, while the other rises in an uninterrupted course
towards the tops of the Rocky Mountains. At the bottom of the
valley flows an immense river, into which the various streams
issuing from the mountains fall from all parts. In memory of
their native land, the French formerly called this river the St.
Louis. The Indians, in their pompous language, have named it
the Father of Waters, or the Mississippi.

The Mississippi takes its source above the limit of the two
great regions of which I have spoken, not far from the highest point of the table-land where they unite. Near the same
spot rises another river,* which empties itself into the Polar
seas. The course of the Mississippi is at first dubious: it winds
several times towards the north, from whence it rose; and at
length, after having been delayed in lakes and marshes, it
flows slowly onwards to the south. Sometimes quietly gliding along the argillaceous bed which nature has assigned to
it, sometimes swollen by storms, the Mississippi waters 2,500
miles in its course.** At the distance of 1,364 miles from its
mouth this river attains an average depth of fifteen feet; and
it is navigated by vessels of 300 tons burden for a course of
nearly 500 miles. Fifty-seven large navigable rivers contribute to swell the waters of the Mississippi; amongst others,
the Missouri, which traverses a space of 2,500 miles; the Arkansas of 1,300 miles, the Red River 1,000 miles, four whose
course is from 800 to 1,000 miles in length, viz., the Illinois,
the St. Peters, the St. Francis, and the Moingona; besides a
countless multitude of rivulets which unite from all parts
* The Red River.
**Wardens Description of the United States.

*Darbys View of the United States.


Democracy in America
their tributary streams.
The valley which is watered by the Mississippi seems
formed to be the bed of this mighty river, which, like a god
of antiquity, dispenses both good and evil in its course. On
the shores of the stream nature displays an inexhaustible fertility; in proportion as you recede from its banks, the powers
of vegetation languish, the soil becomes poor, and the plants
that survive have a sickly growth. Nowhere have the great
convulsions of the globe left more evident traces than in the
valley of the Mississippi; the whole aspect of the country
shows the powerful effects of water, both by its fertility and
by its barrenness. The waters of the primeval ocean accumulated enormous beds of vegetable mould in the valley, which
they levelled as they retired. Upon the right shore of the river
are seen immense plains, as smooth as if the husbandman
had passed over them with his roller. As you approach the
mountains the soil becomes more and more unequal and
sterile; the ground is, as it were, pierced in a thousand places
by primitive rocks, which appear like the bones of a skeleton
whose flesh is partly consumed. The surface of the earth is
covered with a granite sand and huge irregular masses of stone,

among which a few plants force their growth, and give the
appearance of a green field covered with the ruins of a vast
edifice. These stones and this sand discover, on examination, a perfect analogy with those which compose the arid
and broken summits of the Rocky Mountains. The flood of
waters which washed the soil to the bottom of the valley
afterwards carried away portions of the rocks themselves; and
these, dashed and bruised against the neighboring cliffs, were
left scattered like wrecks at their feet.* The valley of the Mississippi is, upon the whole, the most magnificent dwellingplace prepared by God for mans abode; and yet it may be
said that at present it is but a mighty desert.
On the eastern side of the Alleghanies, between the base
of these mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, there lies a long
ridge of rocks and sand, which the sea appears to have left
behind as it retired. The mean breadth of this territory does
not exceed one hundred miles; but it is about nine hundred
miles in length. This part of the American continent has a
soil which offers every obstacle to the husbandman, and its
vegetation is scanty and unvaried.
*See Appendix, A.

Upon this inhospitable coast the first united efforts of human industry were made. The tongue of arid land was the
cradle of those English colonies which were destined one
day to become the United States of America. The centre of
power still remains here; whilst in the backwoods the true
elements of the great people to whom the future control of
the continent belongs are gathering almost in secrecy together.
When the Europeans first landed on the shores of the West
Indies, and afterwards on the coast of South America, they
thought themselves transported into those fabulous regions
of which poets had sung. The sea sparkled with phosphoric
light, and the extraordinary transparency of its waters discovered to the view of the navigator all that had hitherto
been hidden in the deep abyss.* Here and there appeared
little islands perfumed with odoriferous plants, and resembling baskets of flowers floating on the tranquil surface of

the ocean. Every object which met the sight, in this enchanting region, seemed prepared to satisfy the wants or contribute to the pleasures of man. Almost all the trees were loaded
with nourishing fruits, and those which were useless as food
delighted the eye by the brilliancy and variety of their colors.
In groves of fragrant lemon-trees, wild figs, flowering myrtles,
acacias, and oleanders, which were hung with festoons of
various climbing plants, covered with flowers, a multitude
of birds unknown in Europe displayed their bright plumage,
glittering with purple and azure, and mingled their warbling
with the harmony of a world teeming with life and motion.*
Underneath this brilliant exterior death was concealed. But
the air of these climates had so enervating an influence that
man, absorbed by present enjoyment, was rendered regardless of the future.
North America appeared under a very different aspect; there
everything was grave, serious, and solemn: it seemed created
to be the domain of intelligence, as the South was that of
sensual delight. A turbulent and foggy ocean washed its
shores. It was girt round by a belt of granite rocks, or by

*Malte Brun tells us (vol. v. p. 726) that the water of the

Caribbean Sea is so transparent that corals and fish are discernible at a depth of sixty fathoms. The ship seemed to float
in air, the navigator became giddy as his eye penetrated
through the crystal flood, and beheld submarine gardens, or
beds of shells, or gilded fishes gliding among tufts and thickets of seaweed.

*See Appendix, B.

Democracy in America
To the east of the great river, the woods almost disappeared;
in their stead were seen prairies of immense extent. Whether
Nature in her infinite variety had denied the germs of trees
to these fertile plains, or whether they had once been covered with forests, subsequently destroyed by the hand of man,
is a question which neither tradition nor scientific research
has been able to resolve.
These immense deserts were not, however, devoid of human inhabitants. Some wandering tribes had been for ages
scattered among the forest shades or the green pastures of
the prairie. From the mouth of the St. Lawrence to the delta
of the Mississippi, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean,
these savages possessed certain points of resemblance which
bore witness of their common origin; but at the same time
they differed from all other known races of men:* they were

wide tracts of sand. The foliage of its woods was dark and
gloomy, for they were composed of firs, larches, evergreen
oaks, wild olive-trees, and laurels. Beyond this outer belt lay
the thick shades of the central forest, where the largest trees
which are produced in the two hemispheres grow side by
side. The plane, the catalpa, the sugar- maple, and the Virginian poplar mingled their branches with those of the oak,
the beech, and the lime. In these, as in the forests of the Old
World, destruction was perpetually going on. The ruins of
vegetation were heaped upon each other; but there was no
laboring hand to remove them, and their decay was not rapid
enough to make room for the continual work of reproduction. Climbing plants, grasses, and other herbs forced their
way through the mass of dying trees; they crept along their
bending trunks, found nourishment in their dusty cavities,
and a passage beneath the lifeless bark. Thus decay gave its
assistance to life, and their respective productions were
mingled together. The depths of these forests were gloomy
and obscure, undirected in their course by human industry,
preserved in them a constant moisture. It was rare to meet
with flowers, wild fruits, or birds beneath their shades. The
fall of a tree overthrown by age, the rushing torrent of a cataract, the lowing of the buffalo, and the howling of the wind
were the only sounds which broke the silence of nature.

*With the progress of discovery some resemblance has been found

to exist between the physical conformation, the language, and the
habits of the Indians of North America, and those of the Tongous,
Mantchous, Mongols, Tartars, and other wandering tribes of Asia.
The land occupied by these tribes is not very distant from Behrings
Strait, which allows of the supposition, that at a remote period
they gave inhabitants to the desert continent of America. But this
is a point which has not yet been clearly elucidated by science. See
Malte Brun, vol. v.; the works of Humboldt; Fischer, Conjecture
sur lOrigine des Americains; Adair, History of the American


neither white like the Europeans, nor yellow like most of the
Asiatics, nor black like the negroes. Their skin was reddish
brown, their hair long and shining, their lips thin, and their
cheekbones very prominent. The languages spoken by the
North American tribes are various as far as regarded their
words, but they were subject to the same grammatical rules.
These rules differed in several points from such as had been
observed to govern the origin of language. The idiom of the
Americans seemed to be the product of new combinations,
and bespoke an effort of the understanding of which the
Indians of our days would be incapable.*
The social state of these tribes differed also in many respects from all that was seen in the Old World. They seemed
to have multiplied freely in the midst of their deserts without coming in contact with other races more civilized than
their own. Accordingly, they exhibited none of those indistinct, incoherent notions of right and wrong, none of that
deep corruption of manners, which is usually joined with
ignorance and rudeness among nations which, after advancing to civilization, have relapsed into a state of barbarism.

The Indian was indebted to no one but himself; his virtues,

his vices, and his prejudices were his own work; he had grown
up in the wild independence of his nature.
If, in polished countries, the lowest of the people are rude
and uncivil, it is not merely because they are poor and ignorant, but that, being so, they are in daily contact with rich
and enlightened men. The sight of their own hard lot and of
their weakness, which is daily contrasted with the happiness
and power of some of their fellow-creatures, excites in their
hearts at the same time the sentiments of anger and of fear:
the consciousness of their inferiority and of their dependence
irritates while it humiliates them. This state of mind displays itself in their manners and language; they are at once
insolent and servile. The truth of this is easily proved by
observation; the people are more rude in aristocratic countries than elsewhere, in opulent cities than in rural districts.
In those places where the rich and powerful are assembled
together the weak and the indigent feel themselves oppressed
by their inferior condition. Unable to perceive a single chance
of regaining their equality, they give up to despair, and allow
themselves to fall below the dignity of human nature.

*See Appendix, C.

Democracy in America
This unfortunate effect of the disparity of conditions is
not observable in savage life: the Indians, although they are
ignorant and poor, are equal and free. At the period when
Europeans first came among them the natives of North
America were ignorant of the value of riches, and indifferent
to the enjoyments which civilized man procures to himself
by their means. Nevertheless there was nothing coarse in their
demeanor; they practised an habitual reserve and a kind of
aristocratic politeness. Mild and hospitable when at peace,
though merciless in war beyond any known degree of human ferocity, the Indian would expose himself to die of hunger in order to succor the stranger who asked admittance by
night at the door of his hut; yet he could tear in pieces with
his hands the still quivering limbs of his prisoner. The famous republics of antiquity never gave examples of more
unshaken courage, more haughty spirits, or more intractable
love of independence than were hidden in former times
among the wild forests of the New World.* The Europeans

produced no great impression when they landed upon the

shores of North America; their presence engendered neither
envy nor fear. What influence could they possess over such
men as we have described? The Indian could live without
wants, suffer without complaint, and pour out his deathsong at the stake.* Like all the other members of the great
human family, these savages believed in the existence of a
better world, and adored under different names, God, the
creator of the universe. Their notions on the great intellectual truths were in general simple and philosophical.**
Although we have here traced the character of a primitive
people, yet it cannot be doubted that another people, more
civilized and more advanced in all respects, had preceded it
in the same regions.
An obscure tradition which prevailed among the Indians
to the north of the Atlantic informs us that these very tribes

*We learn from President Jeffersons Notes upon Virginia, p.

148, that among the Iroquois, when attacked by a superior force,
aged men refused to fly or to survive the destruction of their country; and they braved death like the ancient Romans when their
capital was sacked by the Gauls. Further on, p. 150, he tells us
that there is no example of an Indian who, having fallen into the
hands of his enemies, begged for his life; on the contrary, the captive sought to obtain death at the hands of his conquerors by the
use of insult and provocation.

*See Histoire de la Louisiane, by Lepage Dupratz; Charlevoix,

Histoire de la Nouvelle France; Lettres du Rev. G. Hecwelder;
Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, v. I;
Jeffersons Notes on Virginia, pp. 135-190. What is said by
Jefferson is of especial weight, on account of the personal merit of
the writer, of his peculiar position, and of the matter-of-fact age in
which he lived.
**See Appendix, D.


formerly dwelt on the west side of the Mississippi. Along the
banks of the Ohio, and throughout the central valley, there
are frequently found, at this day, tumuli raised by the hands
of men. On exploring these heaps of earth to their centre, it
is usual to meet with human bones, strange instruments,
arms and utensils of all kinds, made of metal, or destined for
purposes unknown to the present race. The Indians of our
time are unable to give any information relative to the history of this unknown people. Neither did those who lived
three hundred years ago, when America was first discovered,
leave any accounts from which even an hypothesis could be
formed. Tradition that perishable, yet ever renewed monument of the pristine world throws no light upon the subject. It is an undoubted fact, however, that in this part of the
globe thousands of our fellow-beings had lived. When they
came hither, what was their origin, their destiny, their history, and how they perished, no one can tell. How strange
does it appear that nations have existed, and afterwards so
completely disappeared from the earth that the remembrance
of their very names is effaced; their languages are lost; their
glory is vanished like a sound without an echo; though per-

haps there is not one which has not left behind it some tomb
in memory of its passage! The most durable monument of
human labor is that which recalls the wretchedness and nothingness of man.
Although the vast country which we have been describing
was inhabited by many indigenous tribes, it may justly be
said at the time of its discovery by Europeans to have formed
one great desert. The Indians occupied without possessing
it. It is by agricultural labor that man appropriates the soil,
and the early inhabitants of North America lived by the produce of the chase. Their implacable prejudices, their uncontrolled passions, their vices, and still more perhaps their savage virtues, consigned them to inevitable destruction. The
ruin of these nations began from the day when Europeans
landed on their shores; it has proceeded ever since, and we
are now witnessing the completion of it. They seem to have
been placed by Providence amidst the riches of the New
World to enjoy them for a season, and then surrender them.
Those coasts, so admirably adapted for commerce and industry; those wide and deep rivers; that inexhaustible valley
of the Mississippi; the whole continent, in short, seemed

Democracy in America

Chapter I: Exterior Form Of North America

prepared to be the abode of a great nation, yet unborn.

In that land the great experiment was to be made, by civilized man, of the attempt to construct society upon a new
basis; and it was there, for the first time, that theories hitherto unknown, or deemed impracticable, were to exhibit a
spectacle for which the world had not been prepared by the
history of the past.

Chapter Summary
North America divided into two vast regions, one inclining
towards the Pole, the other towards the Equator Valley of
the Mississippi Traces of the Revolutions of the Globe
Shore of the Atlantic Ocean where the English Colonies were
founded -Difference in the appearance of North and of South
America at the time of their Discovery Forests of North
America Prairies -Wandering Tribes of Natives Their outward appearance, manners, and language Traces of an unknown people.

Exterior Form Of North America

North America presents in its external form certain general
features which it is easy to discriminate at the first glance. A
sort of methodical order seems to have regulated the separation of land and water, mountains and valleys. A simple, but
grand, arrangement is discoverable amidst the confusion of

objects and the prodigious variety of scenes. This continent
is divided, almost equally, into two vast regions, one of which
is bounded on the north by the Arctic Pole, and by the two
great oceans on the east and west. It stretches towards the
south, forming a triangle whose irregular sides meet at length
below the great lakes of Canada. The second region begins
where the other terminates, and includes all the remainder
of the continent. The one slopes gently towards the Pole, the
other towards the Equator.
The territory comprehended in the first region descends
towards the north with so imperceptible a slope that it may
almost be said to form a level plain. Within the bounds of
this immense tract of country there are neither high mountains nor deep valleys. Streams meander through it irregularly: great rivers mix their currents, separate and meet again,
disperse and form vast marshes, losing all trace of their channels in the labyrinth of waters they have themselves created;
and thus, at length, after innumerable windings, fall into the
Polar Seas. The great lakes which bound this first region are
not walled in, like most of those in the Old World, between
hills and rocks. Their banks are flat, and rise but a few feet

above the level of their waters; each of them thus forming a

vast bowl filled to the brim. The slightest change in the structure of the globe would cause their waters to rush either towards the Pole or to the tropical sea.
The second region is more varied on its surface, and better
suited for the habitation of man. Two long chains of mountains divide it from one extreme to the other; the Alleghany
ridge takes the form of the shores of the Atlantic Ocean; the
other is parallel with the Pacific. The space which lies between
these two chains of mountains contains 1,341,649 square miles.*
Its surface is therefore about six times as great as that of France.
This vast territory, however, forms a single valley, one side of
which descends gradually from the rounded summits of the
Alleghanies, while the other rises in an uninterrupted course
towards the tops of the Rocky Mountains. At the bottom of
the valley flows an immense river, into which the various
streams issuing from the mountains fall from all parts. In
memory of their native land, the French formerly called this
river the St. Louis. The Indians, in their pompous language,
have named it the Father of Waters, or the Mississippi.
*Darbys View of the United States.

Democracy in America
The Mississippi takes its source above the limit of the two
great regions of which I have spoken, not far from the highest
point of the table-land where they unite. Near the same spot
rises another river,* which empties itself into the Polar seas.
The course of the Mississippi is at first dubious: it winds several times towards the north, from whence it rose; and at length,
after having been delayed in lakes and marshes, it flows slowly
onwards to the south. Sometimes quietly gliding along the
argillaceous bed which nature has assigned to it, sometimes
swollen by storms, the Mississippi waters 2,500 miles in its
course.** At the distance of 1,364 miles from its mouth this
river attains an average depth of fifteen feet; and it is navigated
by vessels of 300 tons burden for a course of nearly 500 miles.
Fifty-seven large navigable rivers contribute to swell the waters of the Mississippi; amongst others, the Missouri, which
traverses a space of 2,500 miles; the Arkansas of 1,300 miles,
the Red River 1,000 miles, four whose course is from 800 to
1,000 miles in length, viz., the Illinois, the St. Peters, the St.
Francis, and the Moingona; besides a countless multitude of
rivulets which unite from all parts their tributary streams.
*The Red River.
**Wardens Description of the United States.

The valley which is watered by the Mississippi seems

formed to be the bed of this mighty river, which, like a god
of antiquity, dispenses both good and evil in its course. On
the shores of the stream nature displays an inexhaustible fertility; in proportion as you recede from its banks, the powers
of vegetation languish, the soil becomes poor, and the plants
that survive have a sickly growth. Nowhere have the great
convulsions of the globe left more evident traces than in the
valley of the Mississippi; the whole aspect of the country
shows the powerful effects of water, both by its fertility and
by its barrenness. The waters of the primeval ocean accumulated enormous beds of vegetable mould in the valley, which
they levelled as they retired. Upon the right shore of the river
are seen immense plains, as smooth as if the husbandman
had passed over them with his roller. As you approach the
mountains the soil becomes more and more unequal and
sterile; the ground is, as it were, pierced in a thousand places
by primitive rocks, which appear like the bones of a skeleton
whose flesh is partly consumed. The surface of the earth is
covered with a granite sand and huge irregular masses of stone,
among which a few plants force their growth, and give the

appearance of a green field covered with the ruins of a vast
edifice. These stones and this sand discover, on examination, a perfect analogy with those which compose the arid
and broken summits of the Rocky Mountains. The flood of
waters which washed the soil to the bottom of the valley
afterwards carried away portions of the rocks themselves; and
these, dashed and bruised against the neighboring cliffs, were
left scattered like wrecks at their feet.* The valley of the Mississippi is, upon the whole, the most magnificent dwellingplace prepared by God for mans abode; and yet it may be
said that at present it is but a mighty desert.
On the eastern side of the Alleghanies, between the base
of these mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, there lies a long
ridge of rocks and sand, which the sea appears to have left
behind as it retired. The mean breadth of this territory does
not exceed one hundred miles; but it is about nine hundred
miles in length. This part of the American continent has a
soil which offers every obstacle to the husbandman, and its
vegetation is scanty and unvaried.
Upon this inhospitable coast the first united efforts of hu-

man industry were made. The tongue of arid land was the
cradle of those English colonies which were destined one
day to become the United States of America. The centre of
power still remains here; whilst in the backwoods the true
elements of the great people to whom the future control of
the continent belongs are gathering almost in secrecy together.
When the Europeans first landed on the shores of the West
Indies, and afterwards on the coast of South America, they
thought themselves transported into those fabulous regions
of which poets had sung. The sea sparkled with phosphoric
light, and the extraordinary transparency of its waters discovered to the view of the navigator all that had hitherto
been hidden in the deep abyss.* Here and there appeared
little islands perfumed with odoriferous plants, and resembling baskets of flowers floating on the tranquil surface of
the ocean. Every object which met the sight, in this enchanting region, seemed prepared to satisfy the wants or contrib*Malte Brun tells us (vol. v. p. 726) that the water of the Caribbean Sea is so transparent that corals and fish are discernible at a
depth of sixty fathoms. The ship seemed to float in air, the navigator became giddy as his eye penetrated through the crystal flood,
and beheld submarine gardens, or beds of shells, or gilded fishes
gliding among tufts and thickets of seaweed.

*See Appendix, A.

Democracy in America
ute to the pleasures of man. Almost all the trees were loaded
with nourishing fruits, and those which were useless as food
delighted the eye by the brilliancy and variety of their colors.
In groves of fragrant lemon-trees, wild figs, flowering myrtles,
acacias, and oleanders, which were hung with festoons of
various climbing plants, covered with flowers, a multitude
of birds unknown in Europe displayed their bright plumage,
glittering with purple and azure, and mingled their warbling
with the harmony of a world teeming with life and motion.*
Underneath this brilliant exterior death was concealed. But
the air of these climates had so enervating an influence that
man, absorbed by present enjoyment, was rendered regardless of the future.
North America appeared under a very different aspect; there
everything was grave, serious, and solemn: it seemed created
to be the domain of intelligence, as the South was that of
sensual delight. A turbulent and foggy ocean washed its
shores. It was girt round by a belt of granite rocks, or by
wide tracts of sand. The foliage of its woods was dark and
gloomy, for they were composed of firs, larches, evergreen

oaks, wild olive-trees, and laurels. Beyond this outer belt lay
the thick shades of the central forest, where the largest trees
which are produced in the two hemispheres grow side by
side. The plane, the catalpa, the sugar-maple, and the Virginian poplar mingled their branches with those of the oak,
the beech, and the lime. In these, as in the forests of the Old
World, destruction was perpetually going on. The ruins of
vegetation were heaped upon each other; but there was no
laboring hand to remove them, and their decay was not rapid
enough to make room for the continual work of reproduction. Climbing plants, grasses, and other herbs forced their
way through the mass of dying trees; they crept along their
bending trunks, found nourishment in their dusty cavities,
and a passage beneath the lifeless bark. Thus decay gave its
assistance to life, and their respective productions were
mingled together. The depths of these forests were gloomy
and obscure, and a thousand rivulets, undirected in their
course by human industry, preserved in them a constant
moisture. It was rare to meet with flowers, wild fruits, or
birds beneath their shades. The fall of a tree overthrown by
age, the rushing torrent of a cataract, the lowing of the buf-

*See Appendix, B.

falo, and the howling of the wind were the only sounds which
broke the silence of nature.
To the east of the great river, the woods almost disappeared;
in their stead were seen prairies of immense extent. Whether
Nature in her infinite variety had denied the germs of trees
to these fertile plains, or whether they had once been covered with forests, subsequently destroyed by the hand of man,
is a question which neither tradition nor scientific research
has been able to resolve.
These immense deserts were not, however, devoid of human inhabitants. Some wandering tribes had been for ages
scattered among the forest shades or the green pastures of
the prairie. From the mouth of the St. Lawrence to the delta
of the Mississippi, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean,
these savages possessed certain points of resemblance which
bore witness of their common origin; but at the same time
they differed from all other known races of men:* they were

neither white like the Europeans, nor yellow like most of the
Asiatics, nor black like the negroes. Their skin was reddish
brown, their hair long and shining, their lips thin, and their
cheekbones very prominent. The languages spoken by the
North American tribes are various as far as regarded their
words, but they were subject to the same grammatical rules.
These rules differed in several points from such as had been
observed to govern the origin of language. The idiom of the
Americans seemed to be the product of new combinations,
and bespoke an effort of the understanding of which the
Indians of our days would be incapable.*
The social state of these tribes differed also in many respects from all that was seen in the Old World. They seemed
to have multiplied freely in the midst of their deserts without coming in contact with other races more civilized than
their own. Accordingly, they exhibited none of those indistinct, incoherent notions of right and wrong, none of that
deep corruption of manners, which is usually joined with
ignorance and rudeness among nations which, after advancing to civilization, have relapsed into a state of barbarism.

*With the progress of discovery some resemblance has been found to

exist between the physical conformation, the language, and the habits
of the Indians of North America, and those of the Tongous,
Mantchous, Mongols, Tartars, and other wandering tribes of Asia.
The land occupied by these tribes is not very distant from Behrings
Strait, which allows of the supposition, that at a remote period they
gave inhabitants to the desert continent of America. But this is a point
which has not yet been clearly elucidated by science. See Malte Brun,
vol. v.; the works of Humboldt; Fischer, Conjecture sur lOrigine des
Americains; Adair, History of the American Indians.

*See Appendix, C.

Democracy in America
This unfortunate effect of the disparity of conditions is
not observable in savage life: the Indians, although they are
ignorant and poor, are equal and free. At the period when
Europeans first came among them the natives of North
America were ignorant of the value of riches, and indifferent
to the enjoyments which civilized man procures to himself
by their means. Nevertheless there was nothing coarse in their
demeanor; they practised an habitual reserve and a kind of
aristocratic politeness. Mild and hospitable when at peace,
though merciless in war beyond any known degree of human ferocity, the Indian would expose himself to die of hunger in order to succor the stranger who asked admittance by
night at the door of his hut; yet he could tear in pieces with
his hands the still quivering limbs of his prisoner. The famous republics of antiquity never gave examples of more
unshaken courage, more haughty spirits, or more intractable
love of independence than were hidden in former times
among the wild forests of the New World. *i The Europeans

The Indian was indebted to no one but himself; his virtues,

his vices, and his prejudices were his own work; he had grown
up in the wild independence of his nature.
If, in polished countries, the lowest of the people are rude
and uncivil, it is not merely because they are poor and ignorant, but that, being so, they are in daily contact with rich
and enlightened men. The sight of their own hard lot and of
their weakness, which is daily contrasted with the happiness
and power of some of their fellow-creatures, excites in their
hearts at the same time the sentiments of anger and of fear:
the consciousness of their inferiority and of their dependence
irritates while it humiliates them. This state of mind displays itself in their manners and language; they are at once
insolent and servile. The truth of this is easily proved by
observation; the people are more rude in aristocratic countries than elsewhere, in opulent cities than in rural districts.
In those places where the rich and powerful are assembled
together the weak and the indigent feel themselves oppressed
by their inferior condition. Unable to perceive a single chance
of regaining their equality, they give up to despair, and allow
themselves to fall below the dignity of human nature.

*We learn from President Jeffersons Notes upon Virginia, p.

148, that among the Iroquois, when attacked by a superior force,
aged men refused to fly or to survive the destruction of their country; and they braved death like the ancient Romans when their
capital was sacked by the Gauls. Further on, p. 150, he tells us
that there is no example of an Indian who, having fallen into the
hands of his enemies, begged for his life; on the contrary, the captive sought to obtain death at the hands of his conquerors by the
use of insult and provocation.


produced no great impression when they landed upon the
shores of North America; their presence engendered neither
envy nor fear. What influence could they possess over such
men as we have described? The Indian could live without
wants, suffer without complaint, and pour out his deathsong at the stake.* Like all the other members of the great
human family, these savages believed in the existence of a
better world, and adored under different names, God, the
creator of the universe. Their notions on the great intellectual truths were in general simple and philosophical.**
Although we have here traced the character of a primitive
people, yet it cannot be doubted that another people, more
civilized and more advanced in all respects, had preceded it
in the same regions.
An obscure tradition which prevailed among the Indians
to the north of the Atlantic informs us that these very tribes

formerly dwelt on the west side of the Mississippi. Along the

banks of the Ohio, and throughout the central valley, there
are frequently found, at this day, tumuli raised by the hands
of men. On exploring these heaps of earth to their centre, it
is usual to meet with human bones, strange instruments,
arms and utensils of all kinds, made of metal, or destined for
purposes unknown to the present race. The Indians of our
time are unable to give any information relative to the history of this unknown people. Neither did those who lived
three hundred years ago, when America was first discovered,
leave any accounts from which even an hypothesis could be
formed. Tradition that perishable, yet ever renewed monument of the pristine world throws no light upon the subject. It is an undoubted fact, however, that in this part of the
globe thousands of our fellow-beings had lived. When they
came hither, what was their origin, their destiny, their history, and how they perished, no one can tell. How strange
does it appear that nations have existed, and afterwards so
completely disappeared from the earth that the remembrance
of their very names is effaced; their languages are lost; their
glory is vanished like a sound without an echo; though per-

*See Histoire de la Louisiane, by Lepage Dupratz; Charlevoix,

Histoire de la Nouvelle France; Lettres du Rev. G. Hecwelder;
Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, v. I;
Jeffersons Notes on Virginia, pp. 135-190. What is said by
Jefferson is of especial weight, on account of the personal merit of
the writer, of his peculiar position, and of the matter-of-fact age in
which he lived.
**See Appendix, D.


Democracy in America
haps there is not one which has not left behind it some tomb
in memory of its passage! The most durable monument of
human labor is that which recalls the wretchedness and nothingness of man.
Although the vast country which we have been describing
was inhabited by many indigenous tribes, it may justly be
said at the time of its discovery by Europeans to have formed
one great desert. The Indians occupied without possessing
it. It is by agricultural labor that man appropriates the soil,
and the early inhabitants of North America lived by the produce of the chase. Their implacable prejudices, their uncontrolled passions, their vices, and still more perhaps their savage virtues, consigned them to inevitable destruction. The
ruin of these nations began from the day when Europeans
landed on their shores; it has proceeded ever since, and we
are now witnessing the completion of it. They seem to have
been placed by Providence amidst the riches of the New
World to enjoy them for a season, and then surrender them.
Those coasts, so admirably adapted for commerce and industry; those wide and deep rivers; that inexhaustible valley
of the Mississippi; the whole continent, in short, seemed

prepared to be the abode of a great nation, yet unborn.

In that land the great experiment was to be made, by civilized man, of the attempt to construct society upon a new
basis; and it was there, for the first time, that theories hitherto unknown, or deemed impracticable, were to exhibit a
spectacle for which the world had not been prepared by the
history of the past.



Chapter II: Origin Of The Anglo-Americans

Part I

Origin Of The Anglo-Americans,

And Its Importance In Relation To
Their Future Condition

Chapter Summary
After the birth of a human being his early years are obscurely
spent in the toils or pleasures of childhood. As he grows up
the world receives him, when his manhood begins, and he
enters into contact with his fellows. He is then studied for
the first time, and it is imagined that the germ of the vices
and the virtues of his maturer years is then formed. This, if I
am not mistaken, is a great error. We must begin higher up;
we must watch the infant in its mothers arms; we must see
the first images which the external world casts upon the dark
mirror of his mind; the first occurrences which he witnesses;
we must hear the first words which awaken the sleeping powers of thought, and stand by his earliest efforts, if we would
understand the prejudices, the habits, and the passions which
will rule his life. The entire man is, so to speak, to be seen in
the cradle of the child.
The growth of nations presents something analogous to
this: they all bear some marks of their origin; and the cir-

Utility of knowing the origin of nations in order to understand their social condition and their laws America the
only country in which the starting-point of a great people
has been clearly observable In what respects all who emigrated to British America were similar In what they differed Remark applicable to all Europeans who established
themselves on the shores of the New World Colonization
of Virginia Colonization of New England Original character of the first inhabitants of New England Their arrival
Their first laws Their social contract Penal code borrowed from the Hebrew legislation -Religious fervor -Republican spirit Intimate union of the spirit of religion with
the spirit of liberty.


Democracy in America
cumstances which accompanied their birth and contributed
to their rise affect the whole term of their being. If we were
able to go back to the elements of states, and to examine the
oldest monuments of their history, I doubt not that we should
discover the primal cause of the prejudices, the habits, the
ruling passions, and, in short, of all that constitutes what is
called the national character; we should then find the explanation of certain customs which now seem at variance with
the prevailing manners; of such laws as conflict with established principles; and of such incoherent opinions as are here
and there to be met with in society, like those fragments of
broken chains which we sometimes see hanging from the
vault of an edifice, and supporting nothing. This might explain the destinies of certain nations, which seem borne on
by an unknown force to ends of which they themselves are
ignorant. But hitherto facts have been wanting to researches
of this kind: the spirit of inquiry has only come upon communities in their latter days; and when they at length contemplated their origin, time had already obscured it, or ignorance and pride adorned it with truth-concealing fables.
America is the only country in which it has been possible

to witness the natural and tranquil growth of society, and

where the influences exercised on the future condition of
states by their origin is clearly distinguishable. At the period
when the peoples of Europe landed in the New World their
national characteristics were already completely formed; each
of them had a physiognomy of its own; and as they had
already attained that stage of civilization at which men are
led to study themselves, they have transmitted to us a faithful picture of their opinions, their manners, and their laws.
The men of the sixteenth century are almost as well known
to us as our contemporaries. America, consequently, exhibits in the broad light of day the phenomena which the ignorance or rudeness of earlier ages conceals from our researches.
Near enough to the time when the states of America were
founded, to be accurately acquainted with their elements,
and sufficiently removed from that period to judge of some
of their results, the men of our own day seem destined to see
further than their predecessors into the series of human
events. Providence has given us a torch which our forefathers did not possess, and has allowed us to discern fundamental causes in the history of the world which the obscu44

rity of the past concealed from them. If we carefully examine
the social and political state of America, after having studied
its history, we shall remain perfectly convinced that not an
opinion, not a custom, not a law, I may even say not an
event, is upon record which the origin of that people will
not explain. The readers of this book will find the germ of all
that is to follow in the present chapter, and the key to almost
the whole work.
The emigrants who came, at different periods to occupy
the territory now covered by the American Union differed
from each other in many respects; their aim was not the same,
and they governed themselves on different principles. These
men had, however, certain features in common, and they
were all placed in an analogous situation. The tie of language is perhaps the strongest and the most durable that can
unite mankind. All the emigrants spoke the same tongue;
they were all offsets from the same people. Born in a country
which had been agitated for centuries by the struggles of
faction, and in which all parties had been obliged in their
turn to place themselves under the protection of the laws,
their political education had been perfected in this rude

school, and they were more conversant with the notions of

right and the principles of true freedom than the greater part
of their European contemporaries. At the period of their first
emigrations the parish system, that fruitful germ of free institutions, was deeply rooted in the habits of the English;
and with it the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people had
been introduced into the bosom of the monarchy of the
House of Tudor.
The religious quarrels which have agitated the Christian
world were then rife. England had plunged into the new
order of things with headlong vehemence. The character of
its inhabitants, which had always been sedate and reflective,
became argumentative and austere. General information had
been increased by intellectual debate, and the mind had received a deeper cultivation. Whilst religion was the topic of
discussion, the morals of the people were reformed. All these
national features are more or less discoverable in the physiognomy of those adventurers who came to seek a new home
on the opposite shores of the Atlantic.
Another remark, to which we shall hereafter have occasion
to recur, is applicable not only to the English, but to the

Democracy in America
French, the Spaniards, and all the Europeans who successively established themselves in the New World. All these
European colonies contained the elements, if not the development, of a complete democracy. Two causes led to this
result. It may safely be advanced, that on leaving the mothercountry the emigrants had in general no notion of superiority over one another. The happy and the powerful do not go
into exile, and there are no surer guarantees of equality among
men than poverty and misfortune. It happened, however, on
several occasions, that persons of rank were driven to America
by political and religious quarrels. Laws were made to establish a gradation of ranks; but it was soon found that the soil
of America was opposed to a territorial aristocracy. To bring
that refractory land into cultivation, the constant and interested exertions of the owner himself were necessary; and when
the ground was prepared, its produce was found to be insufficient to enrich a master and a farmer at the same time. The
land was then naturally broken up into small portions, which
the proprietor cultivated for himself. Land is the basis of an
aristocracy, which clings to the soil that supports it; for it is
not by privileges alone, nor by birth, but by landed property

handed down from generation to generation, that an aristocracy is constituted. A nation may present immense fortunes and extreme wretchedness, but unless those fortunes
are territorial there is no aristocracy, but simply the class of
the rich and that of the poor.
All the British colonies had then a great degree of similarity at the epoch of their settlement. All of them, from their
first beginning, seemed destined to witness the growth, not
of the aristocratic liberty of their mother-country, but of that
freedom of the middle and lower orders of which the history
of the world had as yet furnished no complete example.
In this general uniformity several striking differences were
however discernible, which it is necessary to point out. Two
branches may be distinguished in the Anglo-American family, which have hitherto grown up without entirely commingling; the one in the South, the other in the North.
Virginia received the first English colony; the emigrants
took possession of it in 1607. The idea that mines of gold
and silver are the sources of national wealth was at that time
singularly prevalent in Europe; a fatal delusion, which has
done more to impoverish the nations which adopted it, and

has cost more lives in America, than the united influence of
war and bad laws. The men sent to Virginia * were seekers of
gold, adventurers, without resources and without character,
whose turbulent and restless spirit endangered the infant
colony, ** and rendered its progress uncertain. The artisans
and agriculturists arrived afterwards; and, although they were
a more moral and orderly race of men, they were in nowise
above the level of the inferior classes in England. *** No lofty
conceptions, no intellectual system, directed the foundation
of these new settlements. The colony was scarcely established
when slavery was introduced, **** and this was the main circumstance which has exercised so prodigious an influence on
the character, the laws, and all the future prospects of the South.
Slavery, as we shall afterwards show, dishonors labor; it introduces idleness into society, and with idleness, ignorance and
pride, luxury and distress. It enervates the powers of the mind,
and benumbs the activity of man. The influence of slavery,
united to the English character, explains the manners and the
social condition of the Southern States.
*The charter granted by the Crown of England in 1609 stipulated, amongst other conditions, that the adventurers should

pay to the Crown a fifth of the produce of all gold and silver
mines. See Marshalls Life of Washington, vol. i. pp. 18-66.
**A large portion of the adventurers, says Stith (History of
Virginia), were unprincipled young men of family, whom
their parents were glad to ship off, discharged servants,
fraudulent bankrupts, or debauchees; and others of the same
class, people more apt to pillage and destroy than to assist
the settlement, were the seditious chiefs, who easily led this
band into every kind of extravagance and excess. See for the
history of Virginia the following works:
History of Virginia, from the First Settlements in the year
1624, by Smith.
History of Virginia, by William Stith.
History of Virginia, from the Earliest Period, by Beverley.
***It was not till some time later that a certain number of
rich English capitalists came to fix themselves in the colony.
****Slavery was introduced about the year 1620 by a Dutch
vessel which landed twenty negroes on the banks of the river
James. See Chalmer.


Democracy in America
In the North, the same English foundation was modified
by the most opposite shades of character; and here I may be
allowed to enter into some details. The two or three main
ideas which constitute the basis of the social theory of the
United States were first combined in the Northern English
colonies, more generally denominated the States of New
England.* The principles of New England spread at first to
the neighboring states; they then passed successively to the
more distant ones; and at length they imbued the whole
Confederation. They now extend their influence beyond its
limits over the whole American world. The civilization of
New England has been like a beacon lit upon a hill, which,
after it has diffused its warmth around, tinges the distant
horizon with its glow.
The foundation of New England was a novel spectacle,
and all the circumstances attending it were singular and original. The large majority of colonies have been first inhabited

either by men without education and without resources,

driven by their poverty and their misconduct from the land
which gave them birth, or by speculators and adventurers
greedy of gain. Some settlements cannot even boast so honorable an origin; St. Domingo was founded by buccaneers;
and the criminal courts of England originally supplied the
population of Australia.
The settlers who established themselves on the shores of
New England all belonged to the more independent classes
of their native country. Their union on the soil of America at
once presented the singular phenomenon of a society containing neither lords nor common people, neither rich nor
poor. These men possessed, in proportion to their number, a
greater mass of intelligence than is to be found in any European nation of our own time. All, without a single exception, had received a good education, and many of them were
known in Europe for their talents and their acquirements.
The other colonies had been founded by adventurers without family; the emigrants of New England brought with them
the best elements of order and morality -they landed in the
desert accompanied by their wives and children. But what

*The States of New England are those situated to the east of

the Hudson; they are now six in number: 1, Connecticut; 2,
Rhode Island; 3, Massachusetts; 4, Vermont; 5, New Hampshire; 6, Maine.

most especially distinguished them was the aim of their undertaking. They had not been obliged by necessity to leave
their country; the social position they abandoned was one to
be regretted, and their means of subsistence were certain.
Nor did they cross the Atlantic to improve their situation or
to increase their wealth; the call which summoned them from
the comforts of their homes was purely intellectual; and in
facing the inevitable sufferings of exile their object was the
triumph of an idea.
The emigrants, or, as they deservedly styled themselves,
the Pilgrims, belonged to that English sect the austerity of
whose principles had acquired for them the name of Puritans. Puritanism was not merely a religious doctrine, but it
corresponded in many points with the most absolute democratic and republican theories. It was this tendency which
had aroused its most dangerous adversaries. Persecuted by
the Government of the mother-country, and disgusted by
the habits of a society opposed to the rigor of their own principles, the Puritans went forth to seek some rude and unfrequented part of the world, where they could live according
to their own opinions, and worship God in freedom.

A few quotations will throw more light upon the spirit of

these pious adventures than all we can say of them. Nathaniel
Morton, * the historian of the first years of the settlement,
thus opens his subject:
Gentle Reader, I have for some length of time looked
upon it as a duty incumbent, especially on the immediate
successors of those that have had so large experience of those
many memorable and signal demonstrations of Gods goodness, viz., the first beginners of this Plantation in New England, to commit to writing his gracious dispensations on
that behalf; having so many inducements thereunto, not
onely otherwise but so plentifully in the Sacred Scriptures:
that so, what we have seen, and what our fathers have told us
(Psalm lxxviii. 3, 4), we may not hide from our children,
showing to the generations to come the praises of the Lord;
that especially the seed of Abraham his servant, and the children of Jacob his chosen (Psalm cv. 5, 6), may remember his
marvellous works in the beginning and progress of the planting of New England, his wonders and the judgments of his
* New Englands Memorial, p. 13; Boston, 1826. See also
Hutchinsons History, vol. ii. p. 440.

Democracy in America
mouth; how that God brought a vine into this wilderness;

So they left that goodly and pleasant city of Leyden,*

that he cast out the heathen, and planted it; that he made

which had been their resting-place for above eleven years;

but they knew that they were pilgrims and strangers here
below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted up
their eyes to Heaven, their dearest country, where God hath
prepared for them a city (Heb. xi. 16), and therein quieted
their spirits. When they came to Delfs- Haven they found
the ship and all things ready; and such of their friends as
could not come with them followed after them, and sundry

room for it and caused it to take deep root; and it filled the
land (Psalm lxxx. 8, 9). And not onely so, but also that he
hath guided his people by his strength to his holy habitation
and planted them in the mountain of his inheritance in respect of precious Gospel enjoyments: and that as especially
God may have the glory of all unto whom it is most due; so
also some rays of glory may reach the names of those blessed
Saints that were the main instruments and the beginning of

* The emigrants were, for the most part, godly Christians

from the North of England, who had quitted their native
country because they were studious of reformation, and
entered into covenant to walk with one another according to
the primitive pattern of the Word of God. They emigrated
to Holland, and settled in the city of Leyden in 1610, where
they abode, being lovingly respected by the Dutch, for many
years: they left it in 1620 for several reasons, the last of which
was, that their posterity would in a few generations become
Dutch, and so lose their interest in the English nation; they

this happy enterprise.

It is impossible to read this opening paragraph without an
involuntary feeling of religious awe; it breathes the very savor of Gospel antiquity. The sincerity of the author heightens his power of language. The band which to his eyes was a
mere party of adventurers gone forth to seek their fortune
beyond seas appears to the reader as the germ of a great nation wafted by Providence to a predestined shore.
The author thus continues his narrative of the departure
of the first pilgrims:

being desirous rather to enlarge His Majestys dominions,

and to live under their natural prince. Translators Note.

came from Amsterdam to see them shipt, and to take their
leaves of them. One night was spent with little sleep with
the most, but with friendly entertainment and Christian discourse, and other real expressions of true Christian love. The
next day they went on board, and their friends with them,
where truly doleful was the sight of that sad and mournful
parting, to hear what sighs and sobs and prayers did sound
amongst them; what tears did gush from every eye, and pithy
speeches pierced each others heart, that sundry of the Dutch
strangers that stood on the Key as spectators could not refrain from tears. But the tide (which stays for no man) calling them away, that were thus loth to depart, their Reverend
Pastor falling down on his knees, and they all with him, with
watery cheeks commended them with most fervent prayers
unto the Lord and his blessing; and then, with mutual embraces and many tears they took their leaves one of another,
which proved to be the last leave to many of them.
The emigrants were about 150 in number, including the
women and the children. Their object was to plant a colony
on the shores of the Hudson; but after having been driven
about for some time in the Atlantic Ocean, they were forced

to land on that arid coast of New England which is now the

site of the town of Plymouth. The rock is still shown on
which the pilgrims disembarked.*
But before we pass on, continues our historian, let the
reader with me make a pause and seriously consider this poor
peoples present condition, the more to be raised up to admiration of Gods goodness towards them in their preservation: for being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles
before them in expectation, they had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses,
or much less towns to repair unto to seek for succour: and
for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters
of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject
to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known
*This rock is become an object of veneration in the United
States. I have seen bits of it carefully preserved in several
towns of the Union. Does not this sufficiently show how
entirely all human power and greatness is in the soul of man?
Here is a stone which the feet of a few outcasts pressed for an
instant, and this stone becomes famous; it is treasured by a
great nation, its very dust is shared as a relic: and what is
become of the gateways of a thousand palaces?

Democracy in America
places, much more to search unknown coasts. Besides, what
could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of
wilde beasts, and wilde men? and what multitudes of them
there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they
turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have
but little solace or content in respect of any outward object;
for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with
a weather-beaten face, and the whole country full of woods
and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew; if they looked
behind them, there was the mighty ocean which they had
passed, and was now as a main bar or gulph to separate them
from all the civil parts of the world.
It must not be imagined that the piety of the Puritans was
of a merely speculative kind, or that it took no cognizance of
the course of worldly affairs. Puritanism, as I have already
remarked, was scarcely less a political than a religious doctrine. No sooner had the emigrants landed on the barren
coast described by Nathaniel Morton than it was their first
care to constitute a society, by passing the following Act:
In the name of God. Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King

James, etc., etc., Having undertaken for the glory of God,

and advancement of the Christian Faith, and the honour of
our King and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in
the northern parts of Virginia; Do by these presents solemnly
and mutually, in the presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politick, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid: and by virtue hereof do enact,
constitute and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances,
acts, constitutions, and officers, from time to time, as shall
be thought most meet and convenient for the general good
of the Colony: unto which we promise all due submission
and obedience, etc. *
This happened in 1620, and from that time forwards the
emigration went on. The religious and political passions
which ravaged the British Empire during the whole reign of
*The emigrants who founded the State of Rhode Island in
1638, those who landed at New Haven in 1637, the first
settlers in Connecticut in 1639, and the founders of Providence in 1640, began in like manner by drawing up a social
contract, which was acceded to by all the interested parties.
See Pitkins History, pp. 42 and 47.


Chapter II: Origin Of The Anglo-Americans

Part II

Charles I drove fresh crowds of sectarians every year to the

shores of America. In England the stronghold of Puritanism
was in the middle classes, and it was from the middle classes
that the majority of the emigrants came. The population of
New England increased rapidly; and whilst the hierarchy of
rank despotically classed the inhabitants of the mother-country, the colony continued to present the novel spectacle of a
community homogeneous in all its parts. A democracy, more
perfect than any which antiquity had dreamt of, started in full
size and panoply from the midst of an ancient feudal society.

The English Government was not dissatisfied with an emigration which removed the elements of fresh discord and of
further revolutions. On the contrary, everything was done
to encourage it, and great exertions were made to mitigate
the hardships of those who sought a shelter from the rigor of
their countrys laws on the soil of America. It seemed as if
New England was a region given up to the dreams of fancy
and the unrestrained experiments of innovators.
The English colonies (and this is one of the main causes of
their prosperity) have always enjoyed more internal freedom
and more political independence than the colonies of other
nations; but this principle of liberty was nowhere more extensively applied than in the States of New England.
It was generally allowed at that period that the territories
of the New World belonged to that European nation which
had been the first to discover them. Nearly the whole coast
of North America thus became a British possession towards
the end of the sixteenth century. The means used by the

Democracy in America
English Government to people these new domains were of
several kinds; the King sometimes appointed a governor of
his own choice, who ruled a portion of the New World in
the name and under the immediate orders of the Crown;*
this is the colonial system adopted by other countries of
Europe. Sometimes grants of certain tracts were made by the
Crown to an individual or to a company,** in which case all
the civil and political power fell into the hands of one or
more persons, who, under the inspection and control of the
Crown, sold the lands and governed the inhabitants. Lastly,
a third system consisted in allowing a certain number of
emigrants to constitute a political society under the protection of the mother-country, and to govern themselves in
whatever was not contrary to her laws. This mode of colonization, so remarkably favorable to liberty, was only adopted
in New England.***
*This was the case in the State of New York.
**Maryland, the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey were
in this situation. See Pitkins History, vol. i. pp. 11-31.
***See the work entitled Historical Collection of State Papers and other authentic Documents intended as materials

for a History of the United States of America, by Ebenezer

Hasard. Philadelphia, 1792, for a great number of documents relating to the commencement of the colonies, which
are valuable from their contents and their authenticity:
amongst them are the various charters granted by the King
of England, and the first acts of the local governments.
See also the analysis of all these charters given by Mr. Story,
Judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, in the Introduction to his Commentary on the Constitution of the
United States. It results from these documents that the principles of representative government and the external forms
of political liberty were introduced into all the colonies at
their origin. These principles were more fully acted upon in
the North than in the South, but they existed everywhere.


In 1628* a charter of this kind was granted by Charles I to
the emigrants who went to form the colony of Massachusetts. But, in general, charters were not given to the colonies
of New England till they had acquired a certain existence.
Plymouth, Providence, New Haven, the State of Connecticut, and that of Rhode Island** were founded without the
co-operation and almost without the knowledge of the
mother-country. The new settlers did not derive their incorporation from the seat of the empire, although they did not
deny its supremacy; they constituted a society of their own
accord, and it was not till thirty or forty years afterwards,
under Charles II. that their existence was legally recognized
by a royal charter.
This frequently renders its it difficult to detect the link
which connected the emigrants with the land of their forefathers in studying the earliest historical and legislative records
of New England. They exercised the rights of sovereignty;
they named their magistrates, concluded peace or declared

war, made police regulations, and enacted laws as if their

allegiance was due only to God.* Nothing can be more curious and, at the same time more instructive, than the legislation of that period; it is there that the solution of the great
social problem which the United States now present to the
world is to be found.
Amongst these documents we shall notice, as especially
characteristic, the code of laws promulgated by the little State
of Connecticut in 1650.** The legislators of Connecticut***
begin with the penal laws, and, strange to say, they borrow
their provisions from the text of Holy Writ. Whosoever shall
worship any other God than the Lord, says the preamble of
the Code, shall surely be put to death. This is followed by
ten or twelve enactments of the same kind, copied verbatim
*The inhabitants of Massachusetts had deviated from the
forms which are preserved in the criminal and civil procedure of England; in 1650 the decrees of justice were not yet
headed by the royal style. See Hutchinson, vol. i. p. 452.
**Code of 1650, p. 28; Hartford, 1830.
***See also in Hutchinsons History, vol. i. pp. 435, 456,
the analysis of the penal code adopted in 1648 by the Colony
of Massachusetts: this code is drawn up on the same principles as that of Connecticut.

*See Pitkins History, p, 35. See the History of the Colony

of Massachusetts Bay, by Hutchinson, vol. i. p. 9.
**See Pitkins History, pp. 42, 47.

Democracy in America
from the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.
Blasphemy, sorcery, adultery,* and rape were punished with
death; an outrage offered by a son to his parents was to be
expiated by the same penalty. The legislation of a rude and
half-civilized people was thus applied to an enlightened and
moral community. The consequence was that the punishment of death was never more frequently prescribed by the
statute, and never more rarely enforced towards the guilty.
The chief care of the legislators, in this body of penal laws,
was the maintenance of orderly conduct and good morals in
the community: they constantly invaded the domain of conscience, and there was scarcely a sin which was not subject to
magisterial censure. The reader is aware of the rigor with
which these laws punished rape and adultery; intercourse

between unmarried persons was likewise severely repressed.

The judge was empowered to inflict a pecuniary penalty, a
whipping, or marriage * on the misdemeanants; and if the
records of the old courts of New Haven may be believed,
prosecutions of this kind were not unfrequent. We find a
sentence bearing date the first of May, 1660, inflicting a fine
and reprimand on a young woman who was accused of using improper language, and of allowing herself to be kissed.**
The Code of 1650 abounds in preventive measures. It punishes idleness and drunkenness with severity.*** Innkeepers
are forbidden to furnish more than a certain quantity of liquor to each consumer; and simple lying, whenever it may
*Code of 1650, p. 48. It seems sometimes to have happened
that the judges superadded these punishments to each other,
as is seen in a sentence pronounced in 1643 (p. 114, New
Haven Antiquities), by which Margaret Bedford, convicted
of loose conduct, was condemned to be whipped, and afterwards to marry Nicholas Jemmings, her accomplice.
**New Haven Antiquities, p. 104. See also Hutchinsons
History, for several causes equally extraordinary.
***Code of 1650, pp. 50, 57.

*Adultery was also punished with death by the law of Massachusetts: and Hutchinson, vol. i. p. 441, says that several persons actually suffered for this crime. He quotes a curious anecdote on this subject, which occurred in the year 1663. A
married woman had had criminal intercourse with a young
man; her husband died, and she married the lover. Several
years had elapsed, when the public began to suspect the previous intercourse of this couple: they were thrown into prison,
put upon trial, and very narrowly escaped capital punishment.

be injurious,* is checked by a fine or a flogging. In other
places, the legislator, entirely forgetting the great principles
of religious toleration which he had himself upheld in Europe, renders attendance on divine service compulsory,** and
goes so far as to visit with severe punishment, and even with
death, the Christians who chose to worship God according
to a ritual differing from his own.*** Sometimes indeed the
zeal of his enactments induces him to descend to the most
frivolous particulars: thus a law is to be found in the same
Code which prohibits the use of tobacco.***** It must not
be forgotten that these fantastical and vexatious laws were
not imposed by authority, but that they were freely voted by
all the persons interested, and that the manners of the community were even more austere and more puritanical than
the laws. In 1649 a solemn association was formed in Boston to check the worldly luxury of long hair. ******
*Ibid., p. 64.
**Ibid., p. 44.
***This was not peculiar to Connecticut. See, for instance,
the law which, on September 13, 1644, banished the
Anabaptists from the State of Massachusetts. (Historical

Collection of State Papers, vol. i. p. 538.) See also the law

against the Quakers, passed on October 14, 1656: Whereas,
says the preamble, an accursed race of heretics called Quakers has sprung up, etc. The clauses of the statute inflict a
heavy fine on all captains of ships who should import Quakers into the country. The Quakers who may be found there
shall be whipped and imprisoned with hard labor. Those
members of the sect who should defend their opinions shall
be first fined, then imprisoned, and finally driven out of the
province. Historical Collection of State Papers, vol. i. p.
****By the penal law of Massachusetts, any Catholic priest
who should set foot in the colony after having been once
driven out of it was liable to capital punishment.
*****Code of 1650, p. 96.
******New Englands Memorial, p. 316. See Appendix, E.

Democracy in America
These errors are no doubt discreditable to human reason;
they attest the inferiority of our nature, which is incapable
of laying firm hold upon what is true and just, and is often
reduced to the alternative of two excesses. In strict connection with this penal legislation, which bears such striking
marks of a narrow sectarian spirit, and of those religious passions which had been warmed by persecution and were still
fermenting among the people, a body of political laws is to
be found, which, though written two hundred years ago, is
still ahead of the liberties of our age. The general principles
which are the groundwork of modern constitutions principles which were imperfectly known in Europe, and not
completely triumphant even in Great Britain, in the seventeenth century were all recognized and determined by the
laws of New England: the intervention of the people in public affairs, the free voting of taxes, the responsibility of authorities, personal liberty, and trial by jury, were all positively established without discussion. From these fruitful
principles consequences have been derived and applications
have been made such as no nation in Europe has yet ventured to attempt.

In Connecticut the electoral body consisted, from its origin, of the whole number of citizens; and this is readily to be
understood,* when we recollect that this people enjoyed an
almost perfect equality of fortune, and a still greater uniformity of opinions.** In Connecticut, at this period, all the
executive functionaries were elected, including the Governor of the State.*** The citizens above the age of sixteen
were obliged to bear arms; they formed a national militia,
which appointed its own officers, and was to hold itself at all
times in readiness to march for the defence of the country.****
In the laws of Connecticut, as well as in all those of New
England, we find the germ and gradual development of that
township independence which is the life and mainspring of
*Constitution of 1638, p. 17.
**In 1641 the General Assembly of Rhode Island unanimously declared that the government of the State was a democracy, and that the power was vested in the body of free
citizens, who alone had the right to make the laws and to
watch their execution. Code of 1650, p. 70.
*** Pitkins History, p. 47.
**** Constitution of 1638, p. 12.

American liberty at the present day. The political existence
of the majority of the nations of Europe commenced in the
superior ranks of society, and was gradually and imperfectly
communicated to the different members of the social body.
In America, on the other hand, it may be said that the township was organized before the county, the county before the
State, the State before the Union. In New England townships were completely and definitively constituted as early as
1650. The independence of the township was the nucleus
round which the local interests, passions, rights, and duties
collected and clung. It gave scope to the activity of a real
political life most thoroughly democratic and republican. The
colonies still recognized the supremacy of the mother-country; monarchy was still the law of the State; but the republic
was already established in every township. The towns named
their own magistrates of every kind, rated themselves, and
levied their own taxes.* In the parish of New England the
law of representation was not adopted, but the affairs of the
community were discussed, as at Athens, in the market-place,
by a general assembly of the citizens.
*Code of 1650, p. 80.

In studying the laws which were promulgated at this first

era of the American republics, it is impossible not to be struck
by the remarkable acquaintance with the science of government and the advanced theory of legislation which they display. The ideas there formed of the duties of society towards
its members are evidently much loftier and more comprehensive than those of the European legislators at that time:
obligations were there imposed which were elsewhere slighted.
In the States of New England, from the first, the condition
of the poor was provided for;* strict measures were taken for
the maintenance of roads, and surveyors were appointed to
attend to them;** registers were established in every parish,
in which the results of public deliberations, and the births,
deaths, and marriages of the citizens were entered;*** clerks
were directed to keep these registers;**** officers were charged
with the administration of vacant inheritances, and with the
arbitration of litigated landmarks; and many others were created whose chief functions were the maintenance of public
order in the community.***** The law enters into a thou*Ibid., p. 78; **Ibid., p. 49; ***See Hutchinsons History,
vol. i. p. 455; ****Code of 1650, p. 86; *****Ibid., p. 40.

Democracy in America
sand useful provisions for a number of social wants which
are at present very inadequately felt in France.
But it is by the attention it pays to Public Education that
the original character of American civilization is at once placed
in the clearest light. It being, says the law, one chief project
of Satan to keep men from the knowledge of the Scripture
by persuading from the use of tongues, to the end that learning may not be buried in the graves of our forefathers, in
church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavors. . . .* Here follow clauses establishing schools in every
township, and obliging the inhabitants, under pain of heavy
fines, to support them. Schools of a superior kind were
founded in the same manner in the more populous districts.
The municipal authorities were bound to enforce the sending of children to school by their parents; they were empowered to inflict fines upon all who refused compliance; and in
case of continued resistance society assumed the place of the
parent, took possession of the child, and deprived the father
of those natural rights which he used to so bad a purpose.
The reader will undoubtedly have remarked the preamble of

these enactments: in America religion is the road to knowledge, and the observance of the divine laws leads man to
civil freedom.
If, after having cast a rapid glance over the state of American society in 1650, we turn to the condition of Europe, and
more especially to that of the Continent, at the same period,
we cannot fail to be struck with astonishment. On the Continent of Europe, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, absolute monarchy had everywhere triumphed over the
ruins of the oligarchical and feudal liberties of the Middle
Ages. Never were the notions of right more completely confounded than in the midst of the splendor and literature of
Europe; never was there less political activity among the
people; never were the principles of true freedom less widely
circulated; and at that very time those principles, which were
scorned or unknown by the nations of Europe, were proclaimed in the deserts of the New World, and were accepted
as the future creed of a great people. The boldest theories of
the human reason were put into practice by a community so
humble that not a statesman condescended to attend to it;
and a legislation without a precedent was produced offhand

*Ibid., p. 90.

by the imagination of the citizens. In the bosom of this obscure democracy, which had as yet brought forth neither generals, nor philosophers, nor authors, a man might stand up
in the face of a free people and pronounce the following fine
definition of liberty.*
Nor would I have you to mistake in the point of your
own liberty. There is a liberty of a corrupt nature which is
effected both by men and beasts to do what they list, and
this liberty is inconsistent with authority, impatient of all
restraint; by this liberty sumus omnes deteriores: tis the
grand enemy of truth and peace, and all the ordinances of
God are bent against it. But there is a civil, a moral, a federal
liberty which is the proper end and object of authority; it is
a liberty for that only which is just and good: for this liberty
you are to stand with the hazard of your very lives and whatsoever crosses it is not authority, but a distemper thereof.

This liberty is maintained in a way of subjection to authority;

and the authority set over you will, in all administrations for
your good, be quietly submitted unto by all but such as have a
disposition to shake off the yoke and lose their true liberty, by
their murmuring at the honor and power of authority.
The remarks I have made will suffice to display the character of Anglo-American civilization in its true light. It is the
result (and this should be constantly present to the mind of
two distinct elements, which in other places have been in
frequent hostility, but which in America have been admirably incorporated and combined with one another. I allude
to the spirit of Religion and the spirit of Liberty.
The settlers of New England were at the same time ardent
sectarians and daring innovators. Narrow as the limits of some
of their religious opinions were, they were entirely free from
political prejudices. Hence arose two tendencies, distinct but
not opposite, which are constantly discernible in the manners as well as in the laws of the country.
It might be imagined that men who sacrificed their friends,
their family, and their native land to a religious conviction
were absorbed in the pursuit of the intellectual advantages

*Mathers Magnalia Christi Americana, vol. ii. p. 13. This

speech was made by Winthrop; he was accused of having
committed arbitrary actions during his magistracy, but after
having made the speech of which the above is a fragment, he
was acquitted by acclamation, and from that time forwards
he was always re- elected governor of the State. See Marshal,
vol. i. p. 166.

Democracy in America
which they purchased at so dear a rate. The energy, however,
with which they strove for the acquirement of wealth, moral
enjoyment, and the comforts as well as liberties of the world,
is scarcely inferior to that with which they devoted themselves to Heaven.
Political principles and all human laws and institutions
were moulded and altered at their pleasure; the barriers of
the society in which they were born were broken down before them; the old principles which had governed the world
for ages were no more; a path without a turn and a field without an horizon were opened to the exploring and ardent curiosity of man: but at the limits of the political world he checks
his researches, he discreetly lays aside the use of his most formidable faculties, he no longer consents to doubt or to innovate, but carefully abstaining from raising the curtain of the
sanctuary, he yields with submissive respect to truths which
he will not discuss. Thus, in the moral world everything is
classed, adapted, decided, and foreseen; in the political world
everything is agitated, uncertain, and disputed: in the one is a
passive, though a voluntary, obedience; in the other an independence scornful of experience and jealous of authority.

These two tendencies, apparently so discrepant, are far from

conflicting; they advance together, and mutually support each
other. Religion perceives that civil liberty affords a noble exercise to the faculties of man, and that the political world is
a field prepared by the Creator for the efforts of the intelligence. Contented with the freedom and the power which it
enjoys in its own sphere, and with the place which it occupies, the empire of religion is never more surely established
than when it reigns in the hearts of men unsupported by
aught beside its native strength. Religion is no less the companion of liberty in all its battles and its triumphs; the cradle
of its infancy, and the divine source of its claims. The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law and the surest pledge of freedom.*
Reasons Of Certain Anomalies Which The Laws And Customs Of The Anglo-Americans Present
Remains of aristocratic institutions in the midst of a complete democracy Why? Distinction carefully to be drawn
between what is of Puritanical and what is of English origin.
The reader is cautioned not to draw too general or too
*See Appendix, F.

I shall quote a single example to illustrate what I advance.
The civil and criminal procedure of the Americans has only
two means of action -committal and bail. The first measure
taken by the magistrate is to exact security from the defendant, or, in case of refusal, to incarcerate him: the ground of
the accusation and the importance of the charges against him
are then discussed. It is evident that a legislation of this kind
is hostile to the poor man, and favorable only to the rich.
The poor man has not always a security to produce, even in
a civil cause; and if he is obliged to wait for justice in prison,
he is speedily reduced to distress. The wealthy individual, on
the contrary, always escapes imprisonment in civil causes;
nay, more, he may readily elude the punishment which awaits
him for a delinquency by breaking his bail. So that all the
penalties of the law are, for him, reducible to fines.* Nothing can be more aristocratic than this system of legislation.
Yet in America it is the poor who make the law, and they
usually reserve the greatest social advantages to themselves.
The explanation of the phenomenon is to be found in England; the laws of which I speak are English,** and the Ameri*Crimes no doubt exist for which bail is inadmissible, but
they are few in number.]
**See Blackstone; and Delolme, book I chap. x.]

absolute an inference from what has been said. The social

condition, the religion, and the manners of the first emigrants undoubtedly exercised an immense influence on the
destiny of their new country. Nevertheless they were not in a
situation to found a state of things solely dependent on themselves: no man can entirely shake off the influence of the
past, and the settlers, intentionally or involuntarily, mingled
habits and notions derived from their education and from
the traditions of their country with those habits and notions
which were exclusively their own. To form a judgment on
the Anglo-Americans of the present day it is therefore necessary to distinguish what is of Puritanical and what is of English origin.
Laws and customs are frequently to be met with in the
United States which contrast strongly with all that surrounds
them. These laws seem to be drawn up in a spirit contrary to
the prevailing tenor of the American legislation; and these
customs are no less opposed to the tone of society. If the
English colonies had been founded in an age of darkness, or
if their origin was already lost in the lapse of years, the problem would be insoluble.

Democracy in America

Chapter III: Social Conditions

of the Anglo-Americans

cans have retained them, however repugnant they may be to

the tenor of their legislation and the mass of their ideas. Next
to its habits, the thing which a nation is least apt to change is
its civil legislation. Civil laws are only familiarly known to
legal men, whose direct interest it is to maintain them as
they are, whether good or bad, simply because they themselves are conversant with them. The body of the nation is
scarcely acquainted with them; it merely perceives their action in particular cases; but it has some difficulty in seizing
their tendency, and obeys them without premeditation. I have
quoted one instance where it would have been easy to adduce a great number of others. The surface of American society is, if I may use the expression, covered with a layer of
democracy, from beneath which the old aristocratic colors
sometimes peep.

Chapter Summary
A Social condition is commonly the result of circumstances,
sometimes of laws, oftener still of these two causes united;
but wherever it exists, it may justly be considered as the source
of almost all the laws, the usages, and the ideas which regulate the conduct of nations; whatever it does not produce it
modifies. It is therefore necessary, if we would become acquainted with the legislation and the manners of a nation,
to begin by the study of its social condition.

The Striking Characteristic of the Social Condition of the Anglo-Americans in Its Essential
The first emigrants of New England Their equality Aristocratic laws introduced in the South Period of the Revolution Change in the law of descent Effects produced by

this change Democracy carried to its utmost limits in the
new States of the West Equality of education.
Many important observations suggest themselves upon the
social condition of the Anglo-Americans, but there is one
which takes precedence of all the rest. The social condition
of the Americans is eminently democratic; this was its character at the foundation of the Colonies, and is still more
strongly marked at the present day. I have stated in the preceding chapter that great equality existed among the emigrants who settled on the shores of New England. The germ
of aristocracy was never planted in that part of the Union.
The only influence which obtained there was that of intellect; the people were used to reverence certain names as the
emblems of knowledge and virtue. Some of their fellow-citizens acquired a power over the rest which might truly have
been called aristocratic, if it had been capable of transmission from father to son.
This was the state of things to the east of the Hudson: to
the south-west of that river, and in the direction of the
Floridas, the case was different. In most of the States situ65

ated to the south- west of the Hudson some great English

proprietors had settled, who had imported with them aristocratic principles and the English law of descent. I have explained the reasons why it was impossible ever to establish a
powerful aristocracy in America; these reasons existed with
less force to the south-west of the Hudson. In the South,
one man, aided by slaves, could cultivate a great extent of
country: it was therefore common to see rich landed proprietors. But their influence was not altogether aristocratic as
that term is understood in Europe, since they possessed no
privileges; and the cultivation of their estates being carried
on by slaves, they had no tenants depending on them, and
consequently no patronage. Still, the great proprietors south
of the Hudson constituted a superior class, having ideas and
tastes of its own, and forming the centre of political action.
This kind of aristocracy sympathized with the body of the
people, whose passions and interests it easily embraced; but
it was too weak and too short-lived to excite either love or
hatred for itself. This was the class which headed the insurrection in the South, and furnished the best leaders of the
American revolution.

Democracy in America
At the period of which we are now speaking society was
shaken to its centre: the people, in whose name the struggle
had taken place, conceived the desire of exercising the authority which it had acquired; its democratic tendencies were
awakened; and having thrown off the yoke of the mothercountry, it aspired to independence of every kind. The influence of individuals gradually ceased to be felt, and custom
and law united together to produce the same result.
But the law of descent was the last step to equality. I am
surprised that ancient and modern jurists have not attributed to this law a greater influence on human affairs.* It is
true that these laws belong to civil affairs; but they ought
nevertheless to be placed at the head of all political institutions; for, whilst political laws are only the symbol of a nations

condition, they exercise an incredible influence upon its social state. They have, moreover, a sure and uniform manner
of operating upon society, affecting, as it were, generations
yet unborn.
Through their means man acquires a kind of preternatural
power over the future lot of his fellow-creatures. When the
legislator has regulated the law of inheritance, he may rest
from his labor. The machine once put in motion will go on
for ages, and advance, as if self-guided, towards a given point.
When framed in a particular manner, this law unites, draws
together, and vests property and power in a few hands: its
tendency is clearly aristocratic. On opposite principles its
action is still more rapid; it divides, distributes, and disperses
both property and power. Alarmed by the rapidity of its
progress, those who despair of arresting its motion endeavor
to obstruct it by difficulties and impediments; they vainly
seek to counteract its effect by contrary efforts; but it gradually reduces or destroys every obstacle, until by its incessant
activity the bulwarks of the influence of wealth are ground
down to the fine and shifting sand which is the basis of democracy. When the law of inheritance permits, still more

*I understand by the law of descent all those laws whose

principal object is to regulate the distribution of property
after the death of its owner. The law of entail is of this number; it certainly prevents the owner from disposing of his
possessions before his death; but this is solely with the view
of preserving them entire for the heir. The principal object,
therefore, of the law of entail is to regulate the descent of
property after the death of its owner: its other provisions are
merely means to this end.

when it decrees, the equal division of a fathers property
amongst all his children, its effects are of two kinds: it is
important to distinguish them from each other, although
they tend to the same end.
In virtue of the law of partible inheritance, the death of
every proprietor brings about a kind of revolution in property; not only do his possessions change hands, but their
very nature is altered, since they are parcelled into shares,
which become smaller and smaller at each division. This is
the direct and, as it were, the physical effect of the law. It
follows, then, that in countries where equality of inheritance
is established by law, property, and especially landed property, must have a tendency to perpetual diminution. The
effects, however, of such legislation would only be perceptible after a lapse of time, if the law was abandoned to its
own working; for supposing the family to consist of two children (and in a country people as France is the average number is not above three), these children, sharing amongst them
the fortune of both parents, would not be poorer than their
father or mother.
But the law of equal division exercises its influence not

merely upon the property itself, but it affects the minds of

the heirs, and brings their passions into play. These indirect
consequences tend powerfully to the destruction of large fortunes, and especially of large domains. Among nations whose
law of descent is founded upon the right of primogeniture
landed estates often pass from generation to generation without undergoing division, the consequence of which is that
family feeling is to a certain degree incorporated with the
estate. The family represents the estate, the estate the family;
whose name, together with its origin, its glory, its power,
and its virtues, is thus perpetuated in an imperishable memorial of the past and a sure pledge of the future.
When the equal partition of property is established by law,
the intimate connection is destroyed between family feeling
and the preservation of the paternal estate; the property ceases
to represent the family; for as it must inevitably be divided
after one or two generations, it has evidently a constant tendency to diminish, and must in the end be completely dispersed. The sons of the great landed proprietor, if they are
few in number, or if fortune befriends them, may indeed
entertain the hope of being as wealthy as their father, but
not that of possessing the same property as he did; the riches

Democracy in America
it by other means than that of a landed estate. Thus not only
does the law of partible inheritance render it difficult for
families to preserve their ancestral domains entire, but it deprives them of the inclination to attempt it, and compels
them in some measure to co-operate with the law in their
own extinction.
The law of equal distribution proceeds by two methods:
by acting upon things, it acts upon persons; by influencing
persons, it affects things. By these means the law succeeds in
striking at the root of landed property, and dispersing rapidly both families and fortunes.*
*Land being the most stable kind of property, we find, from
time to time, rich individuals who are disposed to make great
sacrifices in order to obtain it, and who willingly forfeit a considerable part of their income to make sure of the rest. But these
are accidental cases. The preference for landed property is no
longer found habitually in any class but among the poor. The
small landowner, who has less information, less imagination,
and fewer passions than the great one, is generally occupied
with the desire of increasing his estate: and it often happens that
by inheritance, by marriage, or by the chances of trade, he is
gradually furnished with the means. Thus, to balance the tendency which leads men to divide their estates, there exists another, which incites them to add to them. This tendency, which
is sufficient to prevent estates from being divided ad infinitum,
is not strong enough to create great territorial possessions, certainly not to keep them up in the same family.

must necessarily be composed of elements different from his.

Now, from the moment that you divest the landowner of
that interest in the preservation of his estate which he derives
from association, from tradition, and from family pride, you
may be certain that sooner or later he will dispose of it; for
there is a strong pecuniary interest in favor of selling, as floating capital produces higher interest than real property, and is
more readily available to gratify the passions of the moment.
Great landed estates which have once been divided never
come together again; for the small proprietor draws from his
land a better revenue, in proportion, than the large owner does
from his, and of course he sells it at a higher rate.* The calculations of gain, therefore, which decide the rich man to sell his
domain will still more powerfully influence him against buying small estates to unite them into a large one.
What is called family pride is often founded upon an illusion of self-love. A man wishes to perpetuate and immortalize himself, as it were, in his great-grandchildren. Where the
esprit de famille ceases to act individual selfishness comes
into play. When the idea of family becomes vague, indeterminate, and uncertain, a man thinks of his present convenience; he provides for the establishment of his succeeding
generation, and no more. Either a man gives up the idea of
perpetuating his family, or at any rate he seeks to accomplish
*I do not mean to say that the small proprietor cultivates his
land better, but he cultivates it with more ardor and care; so
that he makes up by his labor for his want of skill.

Most certainly it is not for us Frenchmen of the nineteenth
century, who daily witness the political and social changes
which the law of partition is bringing to pass, to question its
influence. It is perpetually conspicuous in our country, overthrowing the walls of our dwellings and removing the landmarks of our fields. But although it has produced great effects in France, much still remains for it to do. Our recollections, opinions, and habits present powerful obstacles to its
In the United States it has nearly completed its work of
destruction, and there we can best study its results. The English laws concerning the transmission of property were abolished in almost all the States at the time of the Revolution.
The law of entail was so modified as not to interrupt the free
circulation of property.* The first generation having passed
away, estates began to be parcelled out, and the change became more and more rapid with the progress of time. At this
moment, after a lapse of a little more than sixty years, the
aspect of society is totally altered; the families of the great
landed proprietors are almost all commingled with the gen-

eral mass. In the State of New York, which formerly contained many of these, there are but two who still keep their
heads above the stream, and they must shortly disappear.
The sons of these opulent citizens are become merchants,
lawyers, or physicians. Most of them have lapsed into obscurity. The last trace of hereditary ranks and distinctions is destroyed the law of partition has reduced all to one level.
I do not mean that there is any deficiency of wealthy individuals in the United States; I know of no country, indeed,
where the love of money has taken stronger hold on the affections of men, and where the profounder contempt is expressed for the theory of the permanent equality of property.
But wealth circulates with inconceivable rapidity, and experience shows that it is rare to find two succeeding generations in the full enjoyment of it.
This picture, which may perhaps be thought to be overcharged, still gives a very imperfect idea of what is taking
place in the new States of the West and South-west. At the
end of the last century a few bold adventurers began to penetrate into the valleys of the Mississippi, and the mass of the
population very soon began to move in that direction: com-

*See Appendix, G.

Democracy in America
munities unheard of till then were seen to emerge from the
wilds: States whose names were not in existence a few years
before claimed their place in the American Union; and in
the Western settlements we may behold democracy arrived
at its utmost extreme. In these States, founded off-hand, and,
as it were, by chance, the inhabitants are but of yesterday.
Scarcely known to one another, the nearest neighbors are
ignorant of each others history. In this part of the American
continent, therefore, the population has not experienced the
influence of great names and great wealth, nor even that of
the natural aristocracy of knowledge and virtue. None are
there to wield that respectable power which men willingly
grant to the remembrance of a life spent in doing good before their eyes. The new States of the West are already inhabited, but society has no existence among them.*
It is not only the fortunes of men which are equal in
America; even their requirements partake in some degree of
the same uniformity. I do not believe that there is a country

in the world where, in proportion to the population, there

are so few uninstructed and at the same time so few learned
individuals. Primary instruction is within the reach of everybody; superior instruction is scarcely to be obtained by any.
This is not surprising; it is in fact the necessary consequence
of what we have advanced above. Almost all the Americans
are in easy circumstances, and can therefore obtain the first
elements of human knowledge.
In America there are comparatively few who are rich enough
to live without a profession. Every profession requires an
apprenticeship, which limits the time of instruction to the
early years of life. At fifteen they enter upon their calling,
and thus their education ends at the age when ours begins.
Whatever is done afterwards is with a view to some special
and lucrative object; a science is taken up as a matter of business, and the only branch of it which is attended to is such as
admits of an immediate practical application. In America
most of the rich men were formerly poor; most of those who
now enjoy leisure were absorbed in business during their
youth; the consequence of which is, that when they might
have had a taste for study they had no time for it, and when

*This may have been true in 1832, but is not so in 1874,

when great cities like Chicago and San Francisco have sprung
up in the Western States. But as yet the Western States exert
no powerful influence on American society. Translators Note.

time is at their disposal they have no longer the inclination.
There is no class, then, in America, in which the taste for
intellectual pleasures is transmitted with hereditary fortune
and leisure, and by which the labors of the intellect are held
in honor. Accordingly there is an equal want of the desire
and the power of application to these objects.
A middle standard is fixed in America for human knowledge. All approach as near to it as they can; some as they rise,
others as they descend. Of course, an immense multitude of
persons are to be found who entertain the same number of
ideas on religion, history, science, political economy, legislation, and government. The gifts of intellect proceed directly
from God, and man cannot prevent their unequal distribution. But in consequence of the state of things which we
have here represented it happens that, although the capacities of men are widely different, as the Creator has doubtless
intended they should be, they are submitted to the same
method of treatment.
In America the aristocratic element has always been feeble
from its birth; and if at the present day it is not actually
destroyed, it is at any rate so completely disabled that we can

scarcely assign to it any degree of influence in the course of

affairs. The democratic principle, on the contrary, has gained
so much strength by time, by events, and by legislation, as to
have become not only predominant but all-powerful. There is
no family or corporate authority, and it is rare to find even the
influence of individual character enjoy any durability.
America, then, exhibits in her social state a most extraordinary phenomenon. Men are there seen on a greater equality in
point of fortune and intellect, or, in other words, more equal
in their strength, than in any other country of the world, or in
any age of which history has preserved the remembrance.
Political Consequences of the Social Condition
of the Anglo-Americans
The political consequences of such a social condition as this
are easily deducible. It is impossible to believe that equality
will not eventually find its way into the political world as it
does everywhere else. To conceive of men remaining forever
unequal upon one single point, yet equal on all others, is
impossible; they must come in the end to be equal upon all.

Democracy in America
Now I know of only two methods of establishing equality in
the political world; every citizen must be put in possession
of his rights, or rights must be granted to no one. For nations which are arrived at the same stage of social existence
as the Anglo-Americans, it is therefore very difficult to discover a medium between the sovereignty of all and the absolute power of one man: and it would be vain to deny that the
social condition which I have been describing is equally liable to each of these consequences.
There is, in fact, a manly and lawful passion for equality
which excites men to wish all to be powerful and honored.
This passion tends to elevate the humble to the rank of the
great; but there exists also in the human heart a depraved
taste for equality, which impels the weak to attempt to lower
the powerful to their own level, and reduces men to prefer
equality in slavery to inequality with freedom. Not that those
nations whose social condition is democratic naturally despise liberty; on the contrary, they have an instinctive love of
it. But liberty is not the chief and constant object of their
desires; equality is their idol: they make rapid and sudden
efforts to obtain liberty, and if they miss their aim resign

themselves to their disappointment; but nothing can satisfy

them except equality, and rather than lose it they resolve to
On the other hand, in a State where the citizens are nearly
on an equality, it becomes difficult for them to preserve their
independence against the aggressions of power. No one
among them being strong enough to engage in the struggle
with advantage, nothing but a general combination can protect their liberty. And such a union is not always to be found.
From the same social position, then, nations may derive
one or the other of two great political results; these results
are extremely different from each other, but they may both
proceed from the same cause.
The Anglo-Americans are the first nations who, having
been exposed to this formidable alternative, have been happy
enough to escape the dominion of absolute power. They have
been allowed by their circumstances, their origin, their intelligence, and especially by their moral feeling, to establish
and maintain the sovereignty of the people.



Chapter IV: The Principle of the Sovereignty of

the People in America

into the gloom of the sanctuary. The will of the nation is

one of those expressions which have been most profusely
abused by the wily and the despotic of every age. To the eyes
of some it has been represented by the venal suffrages of a
few of the satellites of power; to others by the votes of a
timid or an interested minority; and some have even discovered it in the silence of a people, on the supposition that the
fact of submission established the right of command.
In America the principle of the sovereignty of the people is
not either barren or concealed, as it is with some other nations; it is recognized by the customs and proclaimed by the
laws; it spreads freely, and arrives without impediment at its
most remote consequences. If there be a country in the world
where the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people can be
fairly appreciated, where it can be studied in its application
to the affairs of society, and where its dangers and its advantages may be foreseen, that country is assuredly America.
I have already observed that, from their origin, the sovereignty of the people was the fundamental principle of the
greater number of British colonies in America. It was far,
however, from then exercising as much influence on the gov-

Chapter Summary
It predominates over the whole of society in America Application made of this principle by the Americans even before their Revolution Development given to it by that Revolution Gradual and irresistible extension of the elective

The Principle of the Sovereignty of the People

in America
Whenever the political laws of the United States are to be
discussed, it is with the doctrine of the sovereignty of the
people that we must begin. The principle of the sovereignty
of the people, which is to be found, more or less, at the bottom of almost all human institutions, generally remains concealed from view. It is obeyed without being recognized, or
if for a moment it be brought to light, it is hastily cast back

Democracy in America
ernment of society as it now does. Two obstacles, the one
external, the other internal, checked its invasive progress. It
could not ostensibly disclose itself in the laws of colonies
which were still constrained to obey the mother-country: it
was therefore obliged to spread secretly, and to gain ground
in the provincial assemblies, and especially in the townships.
American society was not yet prepared to adopt it with all
its consequences. The intelligence of New England, and the
wealth of the country to the south of the Hudson (as I have
shown in the preceding chapter), long exercised a sort of
aristocratic influence, which tended to retain the exercise of
social authority in the hands of a few. The public functionaries were not universally elected, and the citizens were not
all of them electors. The electoral franchise was everywhere
placed within certain limits, and made dependent on a certain qualification, which was exceedingly low in the North
and more considerable in the South.
The American revolution broke out, and the doctrine of
the sovereignty of the people, which had been nurtured in
the townships and municipalities, took possession of the State:
every class was enlisted in its cause; battles were fought, and

victories obtained for it, until it became the law of laws.

A no less rapid change was effected in the interior of society, where the law of descent completed the abolition of local influences.
At the very time when this consequence of the laws and of
the revolution was apparent to every eye, victory was irrevocably pronounced in favor of the democratic cause. All power
was, in fact, in its hands, and resistance was no longer possible. The higher orders submitted without a murmur and
without a struggle to an evil which was thenceforth inevitable. The ordinary fate of falling powers awaited them; each
of their several members followed his own interests; and as it
was impossible to wring the power from the hands of a people
which they did not detest sufficiently to brave, their only
aim was to secure its good-will at any price. The most democratic laws were consequently voted by the very men whose
interests they impaired; and thus, although the higher classes
did not excite the passions of the people against their order,
they accelerated the triumph of the new state of things; so
that by a singular change the democratic impulse was found
to be most irresistible in the very States where the aristocracy

had the firmest hold. The State of Maryland, which had been
founded by men of rank, was the first to proclaim universal
suffrage, and to introduce the most democratic forms into
the conduct of its government.
When a nation modifies the elective qualification, it may
easily be foreseen that sooner or later that qualification will
be entirely abolished. There is no more invariable rule in the
history of society: the further electoral rights are extended,
the greater is the need of extending them; for after each concession the strength of the democracy increases, and its demands increase with its strength. The ambition of those who
are below the appointed rate is irritated in exact proportion
to the great number of those who are above it. The exception at last becomes the rule, concession follows concession,
and no stop can be made short of universal suffrage.
At the present day the principle of the sovereignty of the
people has acquired, in the United States, all the practical
development which the imagination can conceive. It is unencumbered by those fictions which have been thrown over
it in other countries, and it appears in every possible form
according to the exigency of the occasion. Sometimes the

laws are made by the people in a body, as at Athens; and

sometimes its representatives, chosen by universal suffrage,
transact business in its name, and almost under its immediate control.
In some countries a power exists which, though it is in a
degree foreign to the social body, directs it, and forces it to
pursue a certain track. In others the ruling force is divided,
being partly within and partly without the ranks of the people.
But nothing of the kind is to be seen in the United States;
there society governs itself for itself. All power centres in its
bosom; and scarcely an individual is to be meet with who
would venture to conceive, or, still less, to express, the idea
of seeking it elsewhere. The nation participates in the making of its laws by the choice of its legislators, and in the execution of them by the choice of the agents of the executive
government; it may almost be said to govern itself, so feeble
and so restricted is the share left to the administration, so
little do the authorities forget their popular origin and the
power from which they emanate.*
*See Appendix, H.

Democracy in America

Chapter V: Necessity of Examining

the Condition of the States Part I

the States would be to adopt a method filled with obstacles.

The form of the Federal Government of the United States
was the last which was adopted; and it is in fact nothing
more than a modification or a summary of those republican
principles which were current in the whole community before it existed, and independently of its existence. Moreover,
the Federal Government is, as I have just observed, the exception; the Government of the States is the rule. The author who should attempt to exhibit the picture as a whole
before he had explained its details would necessarily fall into
obscurity and repetition.
The great political principles which govern American society at this day undoubtedly took their origin and their
growth in the State. It is therefore necessary to become acquainted with the State in order to possess a clue to the remainder. The States which at present compose the American
Union all present the same features, as far as regards the external aspect of their institutions. Their political or administrative existence is centred in three focuses of action, which
may not inaptly be compared to the different nervous centres which convey motion to the human body. The town-

Necessity Of Examining The Condition Of The

States Before That Of The Union At Large
It is proposed to examine in the following chapter what is
the form of government established in America on the principle of the sovereignty of the people; what are its resources,
its hindrances, its advantages, and its dangers. The first difficulty which presents itself arises from the complex nature of
the constitution of the United States, which consists of two
distinct social structures, connected and, as it were, encased
one within the other; two governments, completely separate
and almost independent, the one fulfilling the ordinary duties and responding to the daily and indefinite calls of a community, the other circumscribed within certain limits, and
only exercising an exceptional authority over the general interests of the country. In short, there are twenty- four small
sovereign nations, whose agglomeration constitutes the body
of the Union. To examine the Union before we have studied

stituted by the hand of God. But although the existence of
the township is coeval with that of man, its liberties are not
the less rarely respected and easily destroyed. A nation is always able to establish great political assemblies, because it
habitually contains a certain number of individuals fitted by
their talents, if not by their habits, for the direction of affairs. The township is, on the contrary, composed of coarser
materials, which are less easily fashioned by the legislator.
The difficulties which attend the consolidation of its independence rather augment than diminish with the increasing
enlightenment of the people. A highly civilized community
spurns the attempts of a local independence, is disgusted at
its numerous blunders, and is apt to despair of success before the experiment is completed. Again, no immunities are
so ill protected from the encroachments of the supreme power
as those of municipal bodies in general: they are unable to
struggle, single- handed, against a strong or an enterprising
government, and they cannot defend their cause with success unless it be identified with the customs of the nation
and supported by public opinion. Thus until the independence of townships is amalgamated with the manners of a

ship is the lowest in order, then the county, and lastly the
State; and I propose to devote the following chapter to the
examination of these three divisions.

The American System of Townships

and Municipal Bodies
Why the Author begins the examination of the political institutions with the township Its existence in all nations Difficulty of establishing and preserving municipal independence Its importance Why the Author has selected the
township system of New England as the main topic of his
It is not undesignedly that I begin this subject with the
Township. The village or township is the only association
which is so perfectly natural that wherever a number of men
are collected it seems to constitute itself.
The town, or tithing, as the smallest division of a community, must necessarily exist in all nations, whatever their laws
and customs may be: if man makes monarchies and establishes republics, the first association of mankind seems con77

Democracy in America
people it is easily destroyed, and it is only after a long existence in the laws that it can be thus amalgamated. Municipal
freedom is not the fruit of human device; it is rarely created;
but it is, as it were, secretly and spontaneously engendered
in the midst of a semi-barbarous state of society. The constant action of the laws and the national habits, peculiar circumstances, and above all time, may consolidate it; but there
is certainly no nation on the continent of Europe which has
experienced its advantages. Nevertheless local assemblies of
citizens constitute the strength of free nations. Town-meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they
bring it within the peoples reach, they teach men how to use
and how to enjoy it. A nation may establish a system of free
government, but without the spirit of municipal institutions
it cannot have the spirit of liberty. The transient passions
and the interests of an hour, or the chance of circumstances,
may have created the external forms of independence; but
the despotic tendency which has been repelled will, sooner
or later, inevitably reappear on the surface.
In order to explain to the reader the general principles on
which the political organization of the counties and town-

ships of the United States rests, I have thought it expedient

to choose one of the States of New England as an example,
to examine the mechanism of its constitution, and then to
cast a general glance over the country. The township and the
county are not organized in the same manner in every part
of the Union; it is, however, easy to perceive that the same
principles have guided the formation of both of them
throughout the Union. I am inclined to believe that these
principles have been carried further in New England than
elsewhere, and consequently that they offer greater facilities
to the observations of a stranger. The institutions of New
England form a complete and regular whole; they have received the sanction of time, they have the support of the
laws, and the still stronger support of the manners of the
community, over which they exercise the most prodigious
influence; they consequently deserve our attention on every



Limits of the Township

In the township, as well as everywhere else, the people is the

only source of power; but in no stage of government does
the body of citizens exercise a more immediate influence. In
America the people is a master whose exigencies demand
obedience to the utmost limits of possibility.
In New England the majority acts by representatives in
the conduct of the public business of the State; but if such
an arrangement be necessary in general affairs, in the townships, where the legislative and administrative action of the
government is in more immediate contact with the subject,
the system of representation is not adopted. There is no corporation; but the body of electors, after having designated
its magistrates, directs them in everything that exceeds the
simple and ordinary executive business of the State.*
*The same rules are not applicable to the great towns, which
generally have a mayor, and a corporation divided into two
bodies; this, however, is an exception which requires the sanction of a law. See the Act of February 22, 1822, for appointing the authorities of the city of Boston. It frequently
happens that small towns as well as cities are subject to a
peculiar administration. In 1832, 104 townships in the State
of New York were governed in this manner. Williams Register.

The township of New England is a division which stands

between the commune and the canton of France, and which
corresponds in general to the English tithing, or town. Its
average population is from two to three thousand;* so that,
on the one hand, the interests of its inhabitants are not likely
to conflict, and, on the other, men capable of conducting its
affairs are always to be found among its citizens.

Authorities of the Township in New England

The people the source of all power here as elsewhere Manages its own affairs No corporation The greater part of
the authority vested in the hands of the Selectmen How
the Selectmen act Town-meeting Enumeration of the
public officers of the township Obligatory and remunerated functions.
*In 1830 there were 305 townships in the State of Massachusetts, and 610,014 inhabitants, which gives an average
of about 2,000 inhabitants to each township.

Democracy in America
This state of things is so contrary to our ideas, and so different from our customs, that it is necessary for me to adduce some examples to explain it thoroughly.
The public duties in the township are extremely numerous and minutely divided, as we shall see further on; but the
larger proportion of administrative power is vested in the
hands of a small number of individuals, called the Selectmen. *c The general laws of the State impose a certain number of obligations on the selectmen, which they may fulfil
without the authorization of the body they represent, but
which they can only neglect on their own responsibility. The
law of the State obliges them, for instance, to draw up the
list of electors in their townships; and if they omit this part
of their functions, they are guilty of a misdemeanor. In all
the affairs, however, which are determined by the town-meet-

ing, the selectmen are the organs of the popular mandate, as

in France the Maire executes the decree of the municipal
council. They usually act upon their own responsibility, and
merely put in practice principles which have been previously
recognized by the majority. But if any change is to be introduced in the existing state of things, or if they wish to undertake any new enterprise, they are obliged to refer to the
source of their power. If, for instance, a school is to be established, the selectmen convoke the whole body of the electors
on a certain day at an appointed place; they explain the urgency of the case; they give their opinion on the means of
satisfying it, on the probable expense, and the site which
seems to be most favorable. The meeting is consulted on
these several points; it adopts the principle, marks out the
site, votes the rate, and confides the execution of its resolution to the selectmen.
The selectmen have alone the right of calling a town-meeting, but they may be requested to do so: if ten citizens are
desirous of submitting a new project to the assent of the
township, they may demand a general convocation of the
inhabitants; the selectmen are obliged to comply, but they

*Three selectmen are appointed in the small townships, and

nine in the large ones. See The Town-Officer, p. 186. See
also the principal laws of the State of Massachusetts relative
to the selectmen:
Act of February 20, 1786, vol. i. p. 219; February 24, 1796,
vol. i. p. 488; March 7, 1801, vol. ii. p. 45; June 16, 1795,
vol. i. p. 475; March 12, 1808, vol. ii. p. 186; February 28,
1787, vol. i. p. 302; June 22, 1797, vol. i. p. 539.]

have only the right of presiding at the meeting.*
The selectmen are elected every year in the month of April
or of May. The town-meeting chooses at the same time a
number of other municipal magistrates, who are entrusted
with important administrative functions. The assessors rate
the township; the collectors receive the rate. A constable is
appointed to keep the peace, to watch the streets, and to
forward the execution of the laws; the town-clerk records all
the town votes, orders, grants, births, deaths, and marriages;
the treasurer keeps the funds; the overseer of the poor performs the difficult task of superintending the action of the
poor-laws; committee-men are appointed to attend to the
schools and to public instruction; and the road-surveyors,
who take care of the greater and lesser thoroughfares of the
township, complete the list of the principal functionaries.
They are, however, still further subdivided; and amongst the
municipal officers are to be found parish commissioners, who
audit the expenses of public worship; different classes of inspectors, some of whom are to direct the citizens in case of
fire; tithing-men, listers, haywards, chimney-viewers, fence-

viewers to maintain the bounds of property, timber-measurers, and sealers of weights and measures.*
There are nineteen principal officers in a township. Every
inhabitant is constrained, on the pain of being fined, to undertake these different functions; which, however, are almost
all paid, in order that the poorer citizens may be able to give
up their time without loss. In general the American system
is not to grant a fixed salary to its functionaries. Every service has its price, and they are remunerated in proportion to
what they have done.

Existence of the Township

Every one the best judge of his own interest Corollary of
the principle of the sovereignty of the people Application
of those doctrines in the townships of America The township of New England is sovereign in all that concerns itself
alone: subject to the State in all other matters Bond of the
*All these magistrates actually exist; their different functions
are all detailed in a book called The Town-Officer, by Isaac
Goodwin, Worcester, 1827; and in the Collection of the
General Laws of Massachusetts, 3 vols., Boston, 1823.

*See Laws of Massachusetts, vol. i. p. 150, Act of March 25,


Democracy in America
township and the State In France the Government lends
its agent to the Commune In America the reverse occurs.

control a mans actions, unless they are prejudicial to the

common weal, or unless the common weal demands his cooperation. This doctrine is universally admitted in the United
States. I shall hereafter examine the general influence which
it exercises on the ordinary actions of life; I am now speaking of the nature of municipal bodies.
The township, taken as a whole, and in relation to the government of the country, may be looked upon as an individual
to whom the theory I have just alluded to is applied. Municipal independence is therefore a natural consequence of the
principle of the sovereignty of the people in the United States:
all the American republics recognize it more or less; but circumstances have peculiarly favored its growth in New England.
In this part of the Union the impulsion of political activity
was given in the townships; and it may almost be said that
each of them originally formed an independent nation. When
the Kings of England asserted their supremacy, they were
contented to assume the central power of the State. The townships of New England remained as they were before; and
although they are now subject to the State, they were at first
scarcely dependent upon it. It is important to remember that

I have already observed that the principle of the sovereignty

of the people governs the whole political system of the AngloAmericans. Every page of this book will afford new instances
of the same doctrine. In the nations by which the sovereignty of the people is recognized every individual possesses
an equal share of power, and participates alike in the government of the State. Every individual is, therefore, supposed to
be as well informed, as virtuous, and as strong as any of his
fellow-citizens. He obeys the government, not because he is
inferior to the authorities which conduct it, or that he is less
capable than his neighbor of governing himself, but because
he acknowledges the utility of an association with his fellowmen, and because he knows that no such association can
exist without a regulating force. If he be a subject in all that
concerns the mutual relations of citizens, he is free and responsible to God alone for all that concerns himself. Hence
arises the maxim that every one is the best and the sole judge
of his own private interest, and that society has no right to

they have not been invested with privileges, but that they
have, on the contrary, forfeited a portion of their independence to the State. The townships are only subordinate to
the State in those interests which I shall term social, as they
are common to all the citizens. They are independent in all
that concerns themselves; and amongst the inhabitants of
New England I believe that not a man is to be found who
would acknowledge that the State has any right to interfere
in their local interests. The towns of New England buy and
sell, sue or are sued, augment or diminish their rates, without the slightest opposition on the part of the administrative
authority of the State.
They are bound, however, to comply with the demands of
the community. If the State is in need of money, a town can
neither give nor withhold the supplies. If the State projects a
road, the township cannot refuse to let it cross its territory; if
a police regulation is made by the State, it must be enforced
by the town. A uniform system of instruction is organized
all over the country, and every town is bound to establish the
schools which the law ordains. In speaking of the administration of the United States I shall have occasion to point

out the means by which the townships are compelled to obey

in these different cases: I here merely show the existence of
the obligation. Strict as this obligation is, the government of
the State imposes it in principle only, and in its performance
the township resumes all its independent rights. Thus, taxes
are voted by the State, but they are levied and collected by
the township; the existence of a school is obligatory, but the
township builds, pays, and superintends it. In France the
State- collector receives the local imposts; in America the
town-collector receives the taxes of the State. Thus the French
Government lends its agents to the commune; in America
the township is the agent of the Government. This fact alone
shows the extent of the differences which exist between the
two nations.

Public Spirit Of The Townships Of New England

How the township of New England wins the affections of its
inhabitants Difficulty of creating local public spirit in Europe The rights and duties of the American township fa83

Democracy in America
vorable to it Characteristics of home in the United States
Manifestations of public spirit in New England Its happy

nothing is more difficult to create. If the municipal bodies

were made powerful and independent, the authorities of the
nation might be disunited and the peace of the country endangered. Yet, without power and independence, a town may
contain good subjects, but it can have no active citizens.
Another important fact is that the township of New England is so constituted as to excite the warmest of human
affections, without arousing the ambitious passions of the
heart of man. The officers of the country are not elected,
and their authority is very limited. Even the State is only a
second-rate community, whose tranquil and obscure administration offers no inducement sufficient to draw men away
from the circle of their interests into the turmoil of public
affairs. The federal government confers power and honor on
the men who conduct it; but these individuals can never be
very numerous. The high station of the Presidency can only
be reached at an advanced period of life, and the other federal functionaries are generally men who have been favored
by fortune, or distinguished in some other career. Such cannot be the permanent aim of the ambitious. But the township serves as a centre for the desire of public esteem, the

In America, not only do municipal bodies exist, but they are

kept alive and supported by public spirit. The township of
New England possesses two advantages which infallibly secure the attentive interest of mankind, namely, independence
and authority. Its sphere is indeed small and limited, but
within that sphere its action is unrestrained; and its independence gives to it a real importance which its extent and
population may not always ensure.
It is to be remembered that the affections of men generally
lie on the side of authority. Patriotism is not durable in a
conquered nation. The New Englander is attached to his
township, not only because he was born in it, but because it
constitutes a social body of which he is a member, and whose
government claims and deserves the exercise of his sagacity.
In Europe the absence of local public spirit is a frequent subject of regret to those who are in power; everyone agrees that
there is no surer guarantee of order and tranquility, and yet

want of exciting interests, and the taste for authority and
popularity, in the midst of the ordinary relations of life; and
the passions which commonly embroil society change their
character when they find a vent so near the domestic hearth
and the family circle.
In the American States power has been disseminated with
admirable skill for the purpose of interesting the greatest
possible number of persons in the common weal. Independently of the electors who are from time to time called into
action, the body politic is divided into innumerable functionaries and officers, who all, in their several spheres, represent the same powerful whole in whose name they act. The
local administration thus affords an unfailing source of profit
and interest to a vast number of individuals.
The American system, which divides the local authority
among so many citizens, does not scruple to multiply the
functions of the town officers. For in the United States it is
believed, and with truth, that patriotism is a kind of devotion which is strengthened by ritual observance. In this manner the activity of the township is continually perceptible; it
is daily manifested in the fulfilment of a duty or the exercise

of a right, and a constant though gentle motion is thus kept

up in society which animates without disturbing it.
The American attaches himself to his home as the mountaineer clings to his hills, because the characteristic features
of his country are there more distinctly marked than elsewhere. The existence of the townships of New England is in
general a happy one. Their government is suited to their tastes,
and chosen by themselves. In the midst of the profound peace
and general comfort which reign in America the commotions of municipal discord are unfrequent. The conduct of
local business is easy. The political education of the people
has long been complete; say rather that it was complete when
the people first set foot upon the soil. In New England no
tradition exists of a distinction of ranks; no portion of the
community is tempted to oppress the remainder; and the
abuses which may injure isolated individuals are forgotten
in the general contentment which prevails. If the government is defective (and it would no doubt be easy to point
out its deficiencies), the fact that it really emanates from those
it governs, and that it acts, either ill or well, casts the protecting spell of a parental pride over its faults. No term of

Democracy in America
ply to facilitate the administration of justice.
The extent of the township was too small to contain a
system of judicial institutions; each county has, however, a
court of justice,* a sheriff to execute its decrees, and a prison
for criminals. There are certain wants which are felt alike by
all the townships of a county; it is therefore natural that they
should be satisfied by a central authority. In the State of
Massachusetts this authority is vested in the hands of several
magistrates, who are appointed by the Governor of the State,
with the advice** of his council.*** The officers of the county
*See the Act of February 14, 1821, Laws of Massachusetts,
vol. i. p. 551.
**See the Act of February 20, 1819, Laws of Massachusetts,
vol. ii. p. 494.
***The council of the Governor is an elective body.] A twofold tendency may be discerned in the American constitutions, which impels the legislator to centralize the legislative
and to disperse the executive power. The township of New
England has in itself an indestructible element of independence; and this distinct existence could only be fictitiously
introduced into the county, where its utility has not been
felt. But all the townships united have but one representation, which is the State, the centre of the national authority:
beyond the action of the township and that of the nation,
nothing can be said to exist but the influence of individual

comparison disturbs the satisfaction of the citizen: England

formerly governed the mass of the colonies, but the people
was always sovereign in the township where its rule is not
only an ancient but a primitive state.
The native of New England is attached to his township
because it is independent and free: his co-operation in its
affairs ensures his attachment to its interest; the well-being it
affords him secures his affection; and its welfare is the aim of
his ambition and of his future exertions: he takes a part in
every occurrence in the place; he practises the art of government in the small sphere within his reach; he accustoms himself to those forms which can alone ensure the steady progress
of liberty; he imbibes their spirit; he acquires a taste for order, comprehends the union or the balance of powers, and
collects clear practical notions on the nature of his duties
and the extent of his rights.

The Counties of New England

The division of the countries in America has considerable
analogy with that of the arrondissements of France. The limits
of the counties are arbitrarily laid down, and the various districts which they contain have no necessary connection, no
common tradition or natural sympathy; their object is sim86

the elective principle to all functionaries The Justice of the
Peace in New England By whom appointed County officer: ensures the administration of the townships Court
of Sessions Its action Right of inspection and indictment
disseminated like the other administrative functions Informers encouraged by the division of fines.

have only a limited and occasional authority, which is applicable to certain predetermined cases. The State and the townships possess all the power requisite to conduct public business. The budget of the county is drawn up by its officers,
and is voted by the legislature, but there is no assembly which
directly or indirectly represents the county. It has, therefore,
properly speaking, no political existence.

Nothing is more striking to an European traveller in the

United States than the absence of what we term the Government, or the Administration. Written laws exist in America,
and one sees that they are daily executed; but although everything is in motion, the hand which gives the impulse to
the social machine can nowhere be discovered. Nevertheless,
as all peoples are obliged to have recourse to certain grammatical forms, which are the foundation of human language,
in order to express their thoughts; so all communities are
obliged to secure their existence by submitting to a certain
dose of authority, without which they fall a prey to anarchy.
This authority may be distributed in several ways, but it must
always exist somewhere.
There are two methods of diminishing the force of au-

Administration in New England

Administration not perceived in America Why? The Europeans believe that liberty is promoted by depriving the
social authority of some of its rights; the Americans, by dividing its exercise Almost all the administration confined
to the township, and divided amongst the town-officers
No trace of an administrative body to be perceived, either in
the township or above it The reason of this How it happens that the administration of the State is uniform Who
is empowered to enforce the obedience of the township and
the county to the law The introduction of judicial power
into the administration Consequence of the extension of

Democracy in America
thority in a nation: The first is to weaken the supreme power

was marked, on the contrary, by an attachment to whatever

in its very principle, by forbidding or preventing society from

was lawful and orderly.

acting in its own defence under certain circumstances. To

It was never assumed in the United States that the citizen

weaken authority in this manner is what is generally termed

of a free country has a right to do whatever he pleases; on the

in Europe to lay the foundations of freedom. The second

contrary, social obligations were there imposed upon him

manner of diminishing the influence of authority does not

more various than anywhere else. No idea was ever enter-

consist in stripping society of any of its rights, nor in para-

tained of attacking the principles or of contesting the rights

lyzing its efforts, but in distributing the exercise of its privi-

of society; but the exercise of its authority was divided, to

leges in various hands, and in multiplying functionaries, to

the end that the office might be powerful and the officer

each of whom the degree of power necessary for him to per-

insignificant, and that the community should be at once regu-

form his duty is entrusted. There may be nations whom this

lated and free. In no country in the world does the law hold

distribution of social powers might lead to anarchy; but in

so absolute a language as in America, and in no country is

itself it is not anarchical. The action of authority is indeed

the right of applying it vested in so many hands. The admin-

thus rendered less irresistible and less perilous, but it is not

istrative power in the United States presents nothing either

totally suppressed.

central or hierarchical in its constitution, which accounts for

its passing, unperceived. The power exists, but its represen-

The revolution of the United States was the result of a

tative is not to be perceived.

mature and dignified taste for freedom, and not of a vague

or ill-defined craving for independence. It contracted no al-

We have already seen that the independent townships of

liance with the turbulent passions of anarchy; but its course

New England protect their own private interests; and the


powers, for those unforeseen emergencies which frequently
occur in society.*
It results from what we have said that in the State of Massachusetts the administrative authority is almost entirely restricted to the township,** but that it is distributed among a
great number of individuals. In the French commune there
is properly but one official functionary, namely, the Maire;
and in New England we have seen that there are nineteen.
These nineteen functionaries do not in general depend upon
one another. The law carefully prescribes a circle of action to
each of these magistrates; and within that circle they have an
entire right to perform their functions independently of any
other authority. Above the township scarcely any trace of a
series of official dignitaries is to be found. It sometimes hap-

municipal magistrates are the persons to whom the execution of the laws of the State is most frequently entrusted.*
Besides the general laws, the State sometimes passes general
police regulations; but more commonly the townships and
town officers, conjointly with justices of the peace, regulate
the minor details of social life, according to the necessities of
the different localities, and promulgate such enactments as
concern the health of the community, and the peace as well
as morality of the citizens.** Lastly, these municipal magistrates provide, of their own accord and without any delegated
*See The Town-Officer, especially at the words Selectmen,
Assessors, Collectors, Schools, Surveyors of Highways. I take
one example in a thousand: the State prohibits travelling on
the Sunday; the tything-men, who are town-officers, are specially charged to keep watch and to execute the law. See the
Laws of Massachusetts, vol. i. p. 410.
The selectmen draw up the lists of electors for the election
of the Governor, and transmit the result of the ballot to the
Secretary of the State. See Act of February 24, 1796: Id., vol.
i. p. 488.
** Thus, for instance, the selectmen authorize the construction of drains, point out the proper sites for slaughter-houses
and other trades which are a nuisance to the neighborhood.
See the Act of June 7, 1785: Id., vol. i. p. 193.

*The selectmen take measures for the security of the public

in case of contagious diseases, conjointly with the justices of
the peace. See Act of June 22, 1797, vol. i. p. 539.
**I say almost, for there are various circumstances in the annals of a township which are regulated by the justice of the
peace in his individual capacity, or by the justices of the peace
assembled in the chief town of the county; thus licenses are
granted by the justices. See the Act of February 28, 1787,
vol. i. p. 297.

Democracy in America
pens that the county officers alter a decision of the townships
or town magistrates,* but in general the authorities of the
county have no right to interfere with the authorities of the
township,** except in such matters as concern the county.
The magistrates of the township, as well as those of the
county, are bound to communicate their acts to the central
government in a very small number of predetermined cases.***
*Thus licenses are only granted to such persons as can produce a certificate of good conduct from the selectmen. If the
selectmen refuse to give the certificate, the party may appeal
to the justices assembled in the Court of Sessions, and they
may grant the license. See Act of March 12, 1808, vol. ii. p.
The townships have the right to make by-laws, and to enforce them by fines which are fixed by law; but these by-laws
must be approved by the Court of Sessions. See Act of March
23, 1786, vol. i. p. 254.
**In Massachusetts the county magistrates are frequently
called upon to investigate the acts of the town magistrates;
but it will be shown further on that this investigation is a
consequence, not of their administrative, but of their judicial power.
***The town committees of schools are obliged to make an
annual report to the Secretary of the State on the condition
of the school. See Act of March 10, 1827, vol. iii. p. 183.

But the central government is not represented by an individual whose business it is to publish police regulations and
ordinances enforcing the execution of the laws; to keep up a
regular communication with the officers of the township and
the county; to inspect their conduct, to direct their actions,
or to reprimand their faults. There is no point which serves
as a centre to the radii of the administration.

Chapter V: Necessity of Examining the Condition of the States Part II

What, then, is the uniform plan on which the government is
conducted, and how is the compliance of the counties and
their magistrates or the townships and their officers enforced?
In the States of New England the legislative authority embraces more subjects than it does in France; the legislator
penetrates to the very core of the administration; the law
descends to the most minute details; the same enactment
prescribes the principle and the method of its application,
and thus imposes a multitude of strict and rigorously defined obligations on the secondary functionaries of the State.

The consequence of this is that if all the secondary functionaries of the administration conform to the law, society in all
its branches proceeds with the greatest uniformity: the difficulty remains of compelling the secondary functionaries of
the administration to conform to the law. It may be affirmed
that, in general, society has only two methods of enforcing
the execution of the laws at its disposal: a discretionary power
may be entrusted to a superior functionary of directing all
the others, and of cashiering them in case of disobedience;
or the courts of justice may be authorized to inflict judicial
penalties on the offender: but these two methods are not
always available.
The right of directing a civil officer presupposes that of
cashiering him if he does not obey orders, and of rewarding
him by promotion if he fulfils his duties with propriety. But
an elected magistrate can neither be cashiered nor promoted.
All elective functions are inalienable until their term is expired. In fact, the elected magistrate has nothing either to
expect or to fear from his constituents; and when all public
offices are filled by ballot there can be no series of official
dignities, because the double right of commanding and of

enforcing obedience can never be vested in the same individual, and because the power of issuing an order can never
be joined to that of inflicting a punishment or bestowing a
The communities therefore in which the secondary functionaries of the government are elected are perforce obliged
to make great use of judicial penalties as a means of administration. This is not evident at first sight; for those in power
are apt to look upon the institution of elective functionaries
as one concession, and the subjection of the elected magistrate to the judges of the land as another. They are equally
averse to both these innovations; and as they are more pressingly solicited to grant the former than the latter, they accede to the election of the magistrate, and leave him independent of the judicial power. Nevertheless, the second of
these measures is the only thing that can possibly counterbalance the first; and it will be found that an elective authority which is not subject to judicial power will, sooner or later,
either elude all control or be destroyed. The courts of justice
are the only possible medium between the central power and
the administrative bodies; they alone can compel the elected

Democracy in America
functionary to obey, without violating the rights of the elector. The extension of judicial power in the political world
ought therefore to be in the exact ratio of the extension of
elective offices: if these two institutions do not go hand in
hand, the State must fall into anarchy or into subjection.
It has always been remarked that habits of legal business
do not render men apt to the exercise of administrative authority. The Americans have borrowed from the English, their
fathers, the idea of an institution which is unknown upon
the continent of Europe: I allude to that of the Justices of
the Peace. The Justice of the Peace is a sort of mezzo termine
between the magistrate and the man of the world, between
the civil officer and the judge. A justice of the peace is a wellinformed citizen, though he is not necessarily versed in the
knowledge of the laws. His office simply obliges him to execute the police regulations of society; a task in which good
sense and integrity are of more avail than legal science. The
justice introduces into the administration a certain taste for
established forms and publicity, which renders him a most
unserviceable instrument of despotism; and, on the other
hand, he is not blinded by those superstitions which render

legal officers unfit members of a government. The Americans have adopted the system of the English justices of the
peace, but they have deprived it of that aristocratic character
which is discernible in the mother-country. The Governor
of Massachusetts* appoints a certain number of justices of
the peace in every county, whose functions last seven years.**
He further designates three individuals from amongst the
whole body of justices who form in each county what is called
the Court of Sessions. The justices take a personal share in
public business; they are sometimes entrusted with administrative functions in conjunction with elected officers,*** they
sometimes constitute a tribunal, before which the magistrates
*We shall hereafter learn what a Governor is: I shall content
myself with remarking in this place that he represents the
executive power of the whole State.
**See the Constitution of Massachusetts, chap. II. sect. 1.
Section 9; chap. III. Section 3.
***Thus, for example, a stranger arrives in a township from
a country where a contagious disease prevails, and he falls ill.
Two justices of the peace can, with the assent of the selectmen, order the sheriff of the county to remove and take care
of him. Act of June 22, 1797, vol. i. p. 540.
In general the justices interfere in all the important acts of
the administration, and give them a semi-judicial character.

summarily prosecute a refractory citizen, or the citizens inform against the abuses of the magistrate. But it is in the
Court of Sessions that they exercise their most important
functions. This court meets twice a year in the county town;
in Massachusetts it is empowered to enforce the obedience
of the greater number* of public officers.** It must be observed, that in the State of Massachusetts the Court of Sessions is at the same time an administrative body, properly so
called, and a political tribunal. It has been asserted that the
county is a purely administrative division. The Court of Sessions presides over that small number of affairs which, as
they concern several townships, or all the townships of the

county in common, cannot be entrusted to any one of them

in particular. *u In all that concerns county business the duties of the Court of Sessions are purely administrative; and if
in its investigations it occasionally borrows the forms of judicial procedure, it is only with a view to its own information, *v or as a guarantee to the community over which it
presides. But when the administration of the township is
brought before it, it always acts as a judicial body, and in
some few cases as an official assembly.
The first difficulty is to procure the obedience of an authority as entirely independent of the general laws of the
State as the township is. We have stated that assessors are
annually named by the town-meetings to levy the taxes. If a
township attempts to evade the payment of the taxes by neglecting to name its assessors, the Court of Sessions con-

*I say the greater number, because certain administrative

misdemeanors are brought before ordinary tribunals. If, for
instance, a township refuses to make the necessary expenditure for its schools or to name a school-committee, it is liable to a heavy fine. But this penalty is pronounced by the
Supreme Judicial Court or the Court of Common Pleas. See
Act of March 10, 1827, Laws of Massachusetts, vol. iii. p.
190. Or when a township neglects to provide the necessary
war-stores. Act of February 21, 1822: Id., vol. ii. p. 570.
**In their individual capacity the justices of the peace take a
part in the business of the counties and townships.

*These affairs may be brought under the following heads:

1. The erection of prisons and courts of justice. 2. The county
budget, which is afterwards voted by the State. 3. The distribution of the taxes so voted. 4. Grants of certain patents. 5.
The laying down and repairs of the country roads.
**Thus, when a road is under consideration, almost all difficulties are disposed of by the aid of the jury.

Democracy in America
demns it to a heavy penalty.* The fine is levied on each of
the inhabitants; and the sheriff of the county, who is the
officer of justice, executes the mandate. Thus it is that in the
United States the authority of the Government is mysteriously concealed under the forms of a judicial sentence; and
its influence is at the same time fortified by that irresistible
power with which men have invested the formalities of law.
These proceedings are easy to follow and to understand.
The demands made upon a township are in general plain
and accurately defined; they consist in a simple fact without
any complication, or in a principle without its application in
detail.** But the difficulty increases when it is not the obedi*See Act of February 20, 1786, Laws of Massachusetts, vol.
i. p. 217.
**There is an indirect method of enforcing the obedience of
a township. Suppose that the funds which the law demands
for the maintenance of the roads have not been voted, the
town surveyor is then authorized, ex officio, to levy the supplies. As he is personally responsible to private individuals
for the state of the roads, and indictable before the Court of
Sessions, he is sure to employ the extraordinary right which
the law gives him against the township. Thus by threatening
the officer the Court of Sessions exacts compliance from the
town. See Act of March 5, 1787, Id., vol. i. p. 305.

ence of the township, but that of the town officers which is

to be enforced. All the reprehensible actions of which a public functionary may be guilty are reducible to the following
He may execute the law without energy or zeal;
He may neglect to execute the law;
He may do what the law enjoins him not to do.
The last two violations of duty can alone come under the
cognizance of a tribunal; a positive and appreciable fact is
the indispensable foundation of an action at law. Thus, if
the selectmen omit to fulfil the legal formalities usual at town
elections, they may be condemned to pay a fine;* but when
the public officer performs his duty without ability, and when
he obeys the letter of the law without zeal or energy, he is at
least beyond the reach of judicial interference. The Court of
Sessions, even when it is invested with its official powers, is
in this case unable to compel him to a more satisfactory obedience. The fear of removal is the only check to these quasioffences; and as the Court of Sessions does not originate the
*Laws of Massachusetts, vol. ii. p. 45.

town authorities, it cannot remove functionaries whom it
does not appoint. Moreover, a perpetual investigation would
be necessary to convict the officer of negligence or
lukewarmness; and the Court of Sessions sits but twice a
year and then only judges such offences as are brought before its notice. The only security of that active and enlightened obedience which a court of justice cannot impose upon
public officers lies in the possibility of their arbitrary removal.
In France this security is sought for in powers exercised by
the heads of the administration; in America it is sought for
in the principle of election.
Thus, to recapitulate in a few words what I have been showing: If a public officer in New England commits a crime in
the exercise of his functions, the ordinary courts of justice
are always called upon to pass sentence upon him. If he commits a fault in his official capacity, a purely administrative
tribunal is empowered to punish him; and, if the affair is
important or urgent, the judge supplies the omission of the
functionary.* Lastly, if the same individual is guilty of one of

those intangible offences of which human justice has no cognizance, he annually appears before a tribunal from which
there is no appeal, which can at once reduce him to insignificance and deprive him of his charge. This system undoubtedly possesses great advantages, but its execution is attended with a practical difficulty which it is important to
point out.
I have already observed that the administrative tribunal,
which is called the Court of Sessions, has no right of inspection over the town officers. It can only interfere when the
conduct of a magistrate is specially brought under its notice;
and this is the delicate part of the system. The Americans of
New England are unacquainted with the office of public prosecutor in the Court of Sessions,* and it may readily be perceived that it could not have been established without difficulty. If an accusing magistrate had merely been appointed
in the chief town of each county, and if he had been unassisted by agents in the townships, he would not have been
better acquainted with what was going on in the county than

*If, for instance, a township persists in refusing to name its

assessors, the Court of Sessions nominates them; and the
magistrates thus appointed are invested with the same authority as elected officers. See the Act quoted above, February 20, 1787.

*I say the Court of Sessions, because in common courts there

is a magistrate who exercises some of the functions of a public prosecutor.

Democracy in America
the members of the Court of Sessions. But to appoint agents
in each township would have been to centre in his person
the most formidable of powers, that of a judicial administration. Moreover, laws are the children of habit, and nothing
of the kind exists in the legislation of England. The Americans have therefore divided the offices of inspection and of
prosecution, as well as all the other functions of the administration. Grand jurors are bound by the law to apprise the
court to which they belong of all the misdemeanors which
may have been committed in their county.* There are certain great offences which are officially prosecuted by the
States;** but more frequently the task of punishing delinquents devolves upon the fiscal officer, whose province it is
to receive the fine: thus the treasurer of the township is
charged with the prosecution of such administrative offences
as fall under his notice. But a more special appeal is made by
American legislation to the private interest of the citizen;***

and this great principle is constantly to be met with in studying the laws of the United States. American legislators are
more apt to give men credit for intelligence than for honesty, and they rely not a little on personal cupidity for the
execution of the laws. When an individual is really and sensibly injured by an administrative abuse, it is natural that his
personal interest should induce him to prosecute. But if a
legal formality be required, which, however advantageous to
the community, is of small importance to individuals, plaintiffs may be less easily found; and thus, by a tacit agreement,
the laws may fall into disuse. Reduced by their system to this
extremity, the Americans are obliged to encourage informers
by bestowing on them a portion of the penalty in certain
cases,**** and to insure the execution of the laws by the dangerous expedient of degrading the morals of the people. The
only administrative authority above the county magistrates
$500. It may readily be imagined that in such a case it might
happen that no one cared to prosecute; hence the law adds that all
the citizens may indict offences of this kind, and that half of the
fine shall belong to the plaintiff. See Act of March 6, 1810, vol. ii.
p. 236. The same clause is frequently to be met with in the law of
Massachusetts. Not only are private individuals thus incited to
prosecute the public officers, but the public officers are encouraged in the same manner to bring the disobedience of private individuals to justice. If a citizen refuses to perform the work which
has been assigned to him upon a road, the road surveyor may
prosecute him, and he receives half the penalty for himself. See
the Laws above quoted, vol. i. p. 308.

*The grand-jurors are, for instance, bound to inform the court of

the bad state of the roads. Laws of Massachusetts, vol. i. p. 308.
**If, for instance, the treasurer of the county holds back his accounts. Laws of Massachusetts, vol. i. p. 406.
***Thus, if a private individual breaks down or is wounded in
consequence of the badness of a road, he can sue the township or
the county for damages at the sessions. Laws of Massachusetts,
vol. i. p. 309.
****In cases of invasion or insurrection, if the town-officers neglect to furnish the necessary stores and ammunition for the militia, the township may be condemned to a fine of from $200 to


is, properly speaking, that of the Government.

ness of the township or parish become; the number of magistrates, of functions, and of rights decreases; the population
exercises a less immediate influence on affairs; town meetings are less frequent, and the subjects of debate less numerous. The power of the elected magistrate is augmented and
that of the elector diminished, whilst the public spirit of the
local communities is less awakened and less influential.* These
differences may be perceived to a certain extent in the State
of New York; they are very sensible in Pennsylvania; but they
become less striking as we advance to the northwest. The
majority of the emigrants who settle in the northwestern
States are natives of New England, and they carry the habits

General Remarks on the Administration

of the United States
Differences of the States of the Union in their system of administration Activity and perfection of the local authorities
decrease towards the South Power of the magistrate increases;
that of the elector diminishes Administration passes from
the township to the county States of New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania Principles of administration applicable to the whole
Union Election of public officers, and inalienability of their
functions Absence of gradation of ranks Introduction of
judicial resources into the administration.

*For details see the Revised Statutes of the State of New York,
part i. chap. xi. vol. i. pp. 336-364, entitled, Of the Powers,
Duties, and Privileges of Towns.
See in the Digest of the Laws of Pennsylvania, the words
Assessors, Collector, Constables, Overseer of the Poor, Supervisors of Highways; and in the Acts of a general nature of the
State of Ohio, the Act of February 25, 1834, relating to townships, p. 412; besides the peculiar dispositions relating to divers
town-officers, such as Townships Clerk, Trustees, Overseers
of the Poor, Fence Viewers, Appraisers of Property, Townships
Treasurer, Constables, Supervisors of Highways.

I have already premised that, after having examined the constitution of the township and the county of New England in
detail, I should take a general view of the remainder of the
Union. Townships and a local activity exist in every State;
but in no part of the confederation is a township to be met
with precisely similar to those of New England. The more
we descend towards the South, the less active does the busi97

Democracy in America
of their mother country with them into that which they
adopt. A township in Ohio is by no means dissimilar from a
township in Massachusetts.
We have seen that in Massachusetts the mainspring of
public administration lies in the township. It forms the common centre of the interests and affections of the citizens.
But this ceases to be the case as we descend to States in
which knowledge is less generally diffused, and where the
township consequently offers fewer guarantees of a wise
and active administration. As we leave New England, therefore, we find that the importance of the town is gradually
transferred to the county, which becomes the centre of administration, and the intermediate power between the Government and the citizen. In Massachusetts the business of
the county is conducted by the Court of Sessions, which is
composed of a quorum named by the Governor and his
council; but the county has no representative assembly, and
its expenditure is voted by the national legislature. In the
great State of New York, on the contrary, and in those of
Ohio and Pennsylvania, the inhabitants of each county
choose a certain number of representatives, who constitute

the assembly of the county.* The county assembly has the

right of taxing the inhabitants to a certain extent; and in this
respect it enjoys the privileges of a real legislative body: at
the same time it exercises an executive power in the county,
frequently directs the administration of the townships, and
restricts their authority within much narrower bounds than
in Massachusetts.
Such are the principal differences which the systems of
county and town administration present in the Federal States.
Were it my intention to examine the provisions of American
law minutely, I should have to point out still further differences in the executive details of the several communities.
But what I have already said may suffice to show the general
principles on which the administration of the United States
rests. These principles are differently applied; their conse*See the Revised Statutes of the State of New York, part i.
chap. xi. vol. i. p. 340. Id. chap. xii. p. 366; also in the Acts
of the State of Ohio, an act relating to county commissioners, February 25, 1824, p. 263. See the Digest of the Laws of
Pennsylvania, at the words County-rates and Levies, p. 170.
In the State of New York each township elects a representative, who has a share in the administration of the county as
well as in that of the township.

quences are more or less numerous in various localities; but
they are always substantially the same. The laws differ, and
their outward features change, but their character does not
vary. If the township and the county are not everywhere constituted in the same manner, it is at least true that in the
United States the county and the township are always based
upon the same principle, namely, that everyone is the best
judge of what concerns himself alone, and the most proper
person to supply his private wants. The township and the
county are therefore bound to take care of their special interests: the State governs, but it does not interfere with their
administration. Exceptions to this rule may be met with,
but not a contrary principle.
The first consequence of this doctrine has been to cause all
the magistrates to be chosen either by or at least from amongst
the citizens. As the officers are everywhere elected or appointed for a certain period, it has been impossible to establish the rules of a dependent series of authorities; there are
almost as many independent functionaries as there are functions, and the executive power is disseminated in a multitude of hands. Hence arose the indispensable necessity of

introducing the control of the courts of justice over the administration, and the system of pecuniary penalties, by which
the secondary bodies and their representatives are constrained
to obey the laws. This system obtains from one end of the
Union to the other. The power of punishing the misconduct
of public officers, or of performing the part of the executive
in urgent cases, has not, however, been bestowed on the same
judges in all the States. The Anglo-Americans derived the
institution of justices of the peace from a common source;
but although it exists in all the States, it is not always turned
to the same use. The justices of the peace everywhere participate in the administration of the townships and the counties,* either as public officers or as the judges of public misdemeanors, but in most of the States the more important
classes of public offences come under the cognizance of the
ordinary tribunals.
The election of public officers, or the inalienability of their
functions, the absence of a gradation of powers, and the introduction of a judicial control over the secondary branches
*In some of the Southern States the county courts are charged
with all the details of the administration. See the Statutes of
the State of Tennessee, arts. Judiciary, Taxes, etc.

Democracy in America
of the administration, are the universal characteristics of the
American system from Maine to the Floridas. In some States
(and that of New York has advanced most in this direction)
traces of a centralized administration begin to be discernible. In the State of New York the officers of the central government exercise, in certain cases, a sort of inspection or control over the secondary bodies.*
*For instance, the direction of public instruction centres in
the hands of the Government. The legislature names the
members of the University, who are denominated Regents;
the Governor and Lieutentant-Governor of the State are necessarily of the number. Revised Statutes, vol. i. p. 455. The
Regents of the University annually visit the colleges and academies, and make their report to the legislature. Their superintendence is not inefficient, for several reasons: the colleges
in order to become corporations stand in need of a charter,
which is only granted on the recommendation of the Regents; every year funds are distributed by the State for the
encouragement of learning, and the Regents are the distributors of this money. See chap. xv. Instruction, Revised Statutes, vol. i. p. 455.
The school-commissioners are obliged to send an annual
report to the Superintendent of the Republic. Id. p. 488.
A similar report is annually made to the same person on
the number and condition of the poor. Id. p. 631.

At other times they constitute a court of appeal for the

decision of affairs.* In the State of New York judicial penalties are less used than in other parts as a means of administration, and the right of prosecuting the offences of public
*If any one conceives himself to be wronged by the schoolcommissioners (who are town-officers), he can appeal to the
superintendent of the primary schools, whose decision is final. Revised Statutes, vol. i. p. 487.
Provisions similar to those above cited are to be met with
from time to time in the laws of the State of New York; but
in general these attempts at centralization are weak and unproductive. The great authorities of the State have the right
of watching and controlling the subordinate agents, without
that of rewarding or punishing them. The same individual is
never empowered to give an order and to punish disobedience; he has therefore the right of commanding, without the
means of exacting compliance. In 1830 the Superintendent
of Schools complained in his Annual Report addressed to
the legislature that several school-commissioners had neglected, notwithstanding his application, to furnish him with
the accounts which were due. He added that if this omission
continued he should be obliged to prosecute them, as the
law directs, before the proper tribunals.

officers is vested in fewer hands.* The same tendency is faintly
observable in some other States;** but in general the prominent feature of the administration in the United States is its
excessive local independence.

Of the State
I have described the townships and the administration; it
now remains for me to speak of the State and the Government. This is ground I may pass over rapidly, without fear of
being misunderstood; for all I have to say is to be found in
written forms of the various constitutions, which are easily
to be procured. These constitutions rest upon a simple and
rational theory; their forms have been adopted by all constitutional nations, and are become familiar to us. In this place,
*Thus the district-attorney is directed to recover all fines
below the sum of fifty dollars, unless such a right has been
specially awarded to another magistrate. Revised Statutes,
vol. i. p. 383.
**Several traces of centralization may be discovered in Massachusetts; for instance, the committees of the town-schools
are directed to make an annual report to the Secretary of
State. See Laws of Massachusetts, vol. i. p. 367.

therefore, it is only necessary for me to give a short analysis;

I shall endeavor afterwards to pass judgment upon what I
now describe.

Chapter V: Necessity of Examining the Condition of the States -Part III

Legislative Power of the State
Division of the Legislative Body into two Houses Senate House
of Representatives Different functions of these two Bodies.
The legislative power of the State is vested in two assemblies,
the first of which generally bears the name of the Senate.
The Senate is commonly a legislative body; but it sometimes
becomes an executive and judicial one. It takes a part in the
government in several ways, according to the constitution of
the different States;* but it is in the nomination of public
functionaries that it most commonly assumes an executive
power. It partakes of judicial power in the trial of certain
*In Massachusetts the Senate is not invested with any administrative functions.

Democracy in America
political offences, and sometimes also in the decision of certain civil cases.* The number of its members is always small.
The other branch of the legislature, which is usually called
the House of Representatives, has no share whatever in the
administration, and only takes a part in the judicial power
inasmuch as it impeaches public functionaries before the
Senate. The members of the two Houses are nearly everywhere subject to the same conditions of election. They are
chosen in the same manner, and by the same citizens. The
only difference which exists between them is, that the term
for which the Senate is chosen is in general longer than that
of the House of Representatives. The latter seldom remain
in office longer than a year; the former usually sit two or
three years. By granting to the senators the privilege of being
chosen for several years, and being renewed seriatim, the law
takes care to preserve in the legislative body a nucleus of
men already accustomed to public business, and capable of
exercising a salutary influence upon the junior members.
The Americans, plainly, did not desire, by this separation
of the legislative body into two branches, to make one house

hereditary and the other elective; one aristocratic and the

other democratic. It was not their object to create in the one
a bulwark to power, whilst the other represented the interests and passions of the people. The only advantages which
result from the present constitution of the United States are
the division of the legislative power and the consequent check
upon political assemblies; with the creation of a tribunal of
appeal for the revision of the laws.
Time and experience, however, have convinced the Americans that if these are its only advantages, the division of the
legislative power is still a principle of the greatest necessity.
Pennsylvania was the only one of the United States which at
first attempted to establish a single House of Assembly, and
Franklin himself was so far carried away by the necessary
consequences of the principle of the sovereignty of the people
as to have concurred in the measure; but the Pennsylvanians
were soon obliged to change the law, and to create two
Houses. Thus the principle of the division of the legislative
power was finally established, and its necessity may henceforward be regarded as a demonstrated truth. This theory,
which was nearly unknown to the republics of antiquity

*As in the State of New York.


be usefully employed in providing for them; he is the natural
executor of its decrees in all the undertakings which interest
the nation at large.* In the absence of the legislature, the Governor is bound to take all necessary steps to guard the State
against violent shocks and unforeseen dangers. The whole
military power of the State is at the disposal of the Governor.
[See Benjamin Franklin]
He is the commander of the militia, and head of the armed
The Executive Power of the State
force. When the authority, which is by general consent awarded
to the laws, is disregarded, the Governor puts himself at the
Office of Governor in an American State The place he
head of the armed force of the State, to quell resistance, and to
occupies in relation to the Legislature His rights and his
restore order. Lastly, the Governor takes no share in the adduties His dependence on the people.
ministration of townships and counties, except it be indirectly
in the nomination of Justices of the Peace, which nomination
The executive power of the State may with truth be said to
he has not the power to cancel.** The Governor is an elected
be represented by the Governor, although he enjoys but a
magistrate, and is generally chosen for one or two years only;
portion of its rights. The supreme magistrate, under the title so that he always continues to be strictly dependent upon the
of Governor, is the official moderator and counsellor of the
majority who returned him.
legislature. He is armed with a veto or suspensive power, *Practically speaking, it is not always the Governor who executes the plans of the Legislature; it often happens that the
which allows him to stop, or at least to retard, its movements
latter, in voting a measure, names special agents to superinat pleasure. He lays the wants of the country before the leg- tend the execution of it.
islative body, and points out the means which he thinks may **In some of the States the justices of the peace are not elected
by the Governor.
which was introduced into the world almost by accident,
like so many other great truths and misunderstood by several modern nations, is at length become an axiom in the
political science of the present age.

Democracy in America

Political Effects of the System of

Local Administration in the United States
Necessary distinction between the general centralization of
Government and the centralization of the local administration Local administration not centralized in the United
States: great general centralization of the Government Some
bad consequences resulting to the United States from the
local administration Administrative advantages attending
this order of things The power which conducts the Government is less regular, less enlightened, less learned, but
much greater than in Europe Political advantages of this
order of things In the United States the interests of the
country are everywhere kept in view Support given to the
Government by the community Provincial institutions
more necessary in proportion as the social condition becomes
more democratic Reason of this.
Centralization is become a word of general and daily use,
without any precise meaning being attached to it. Nevertheless, there exist two distinct kinds of centralization, which it

is necessary to discriminate with accuracy. Certain interests

are common to all parts of a nation, such as the enactment
of its general laws and the maintenance of its foreign relations. Other interests are peculiar to certain parts of the nation; such, for instance, as the business of different townships. When the power which directs the general interests is
centred in one place, or vested in the same persons, it constitutes a central government. In like manner the power of directing partial or local interests, when brought together into
one place, constitutes what may be termed a central administration.
Upon some points these two kinds of centralization coalesce; but by classifying the objects which fall more particularly within the province of each of them, they may easily be
distinguished. It is evident that a central government acquires
immense power when united to administrative centralization. Thus combined, it accustoms men to set their own will
habitually and completely aside; to submit, not only for once,
or upon one point, but in every respect, and at all times. Not
only, therefore, does this union of power subdue them compulsorily, but it affects them in the ordinary habits of life,

and influences each individual, first separately and then collectively.
These two kinds of centralization mutually assist and attract each other; but they must not be supposed to be inseparable. It is impossible to imagine a more completely central government than that which existed in France under
Louis XIV.; when the same individual was the author and
the interpreter of the laws, and the representative of France
at home and abroad, he was justified in asserting that the
State was identified with his person. Nevertheless, the administration was much less centralized under Louis XIV. than
it is at the present day.
In England the centralization of the government is carried
to great perfection; the State has the compact vigor of a man,
and by the sole act of its will it puts immense engines in
motion, and wields or collects the efforts of its authority.
Indeed, I cannot conceive that a nation can enjoy a secure or
prosperous existence without a powerful centralization of
government. But I am of opinion that a central administration enervates the nations in which it exists by incessantly
diminishing their public spirit. If such an administration

succeeds in condensing at a given moment, on a given point,

all the disposable resources of a people, it impairs at least the
renewal of those resources. It may ensure a victory in the
hour of strife, but it gradually relaxes the sinews of strength.
It may contribute admirably to the transient greatness of a
man, but it cannot ensure the durable prosperity of a nation.
If we pay proper attention, we shall find that whenever it
is said that a State cannot act because it has no central point,
it is the centralization of the government in which it is deficient. It is frequently asserted, and we are prepared to assent
to the proposition, that the German empire was never able
to bring all its powers into action. But the reason was, that
the State was never able to enforce obedience to its general
laws, because the several members of that great body always
claimed the right, or found the means, of refusing their cooperation to the representatives of the common authority,
even in the affairs which concerned the mass of the people;
in other words, because there was no centralization of government. The same remark is applicable to the Middle Ages;
the cause of all the confusion of feudal society was that the
control, not only of local but of general interests, was di105

Democracy in America
vided amongst a thousand hands, and broken up in a thousand different ways; the absence of a central government
prevented the nations of Europe from advancing with energy in any straightforward course.
We have shown that in the United States no central administration and no dependent series of public functionaries exist. Local authority has been carried to lengths which
no European nation could endure without great inconvenience, and which has even produced some disadvantageous
consequences in America. But in the United States the centralization of the Government is complete; and it would be
easy to prove that the national power is more compact than
it has ever been in the old nations of Europe. Not only is
there but one legislative body in each State; not only does
there exist but one source of political authority; but district
assemblies and county courts have not in general been multiplied, lest they should be tempted to exceed their administrative duties, and interfere with the Government. In America
the legislature of each State is supreme; nothing can impede
its authority; neither privileges, nor local immunities, nor
personal influence, nor even the empire of reason, since it

represents that majority which claims to be the sole organ of

reason. Its own determination is, therefore, the only limit to
this action. In juxtaposition to it, and under its immediate
control, is the representative of the executive power, whose
duty it is to constrain the refractory to submit by superior
force. The only symptom of weakness lies in certain details
of the action of the Government. The American republics
have no standing armies to intimidate a discontented minority; but as no minority has as yet been reduced to declare
open war, the necessity of an army has not been felt.* The
State usually employs the officers of the township or the
county to deal with the citizens. Thus, for instance, in New
England, the assessor fixes the rate of taxes; the collector receives them; the town-treasurer transmits the amount to the
public treasury; and the disputes which may arise are brought
before the ordinary courts of justice. This method of collecting taxes is slow as well as inconvenient, and it would prove
*The Civil War of 1860-65 cruelly belied this statement,
and in the course of the struggle the North alone called two
millions and a half of men to arms; but to the honor of the
United States it must be added that, with the cessation of
the contest, this army disappeared as rapidly as it had been
raised. Translators Note.

a perpetual hindrance to a Government whose pecuniary demands were large. It is desirable that, in whatever materially
affects its existence, the Government should be served by
officers of its own, appointed by itself, removable at pleasure, and accustomed to rapid methods of proceeding. But
it will always be easy for the central government, organized
as it is in America, to introduce new and more efficacious
modes of action, proportioned to its wants.
The absence of a central government will not, then, as has
often been asserted, prove the destruction of the republics of
the New World; far from supposing that the American governments are not sufficiently centralized, I shall prove hereafter that they are too much so. The legislative bodies daily
encroach upon the authority of the Government, and their
tendency, like that of the French Convention, is to appropriate it entirely to themselves. Under these circumstances
the social power is constantly changing hands, because it is
subordinate to the power of the people, which is too apt to
forget the maxims of wisdom and of foresight in the consciousness of its strength: hence arises its danger; and thus
its vigor, and not its impotence, will probably be the cause of

its ultimate destruction.

The system of local administration produces several different effects in America. The Americans seem to me to have
outstepped the limits of sound policy in isolating the administration of the Government; for order, even in secondrate affairs, is a matter of national importance.* As the State
has no administrative functionaries of its own, stationed on
different points of its territory, to whom it can give a common impulse, the consequence is that it rarely attempts to
issue any general police regulations. The want of these regulations is severely felt, and is frequently observed by Europeans. The appearance of disorder which prevails on the surface leads him at first to imagine that society is in a state of
*The authority which represents the State ought not, I think,
to waive the right of inspecting the local administration, even
when it does not interfere more actively. Suppose, for instance, that an agent of the Government was stationed at
some appointed spot in the country, to prosecute the misdemeanors of the town and county officers, would not a more
uniform order be the result, without in any way compromising the independence of the township? Nothing of the kind,
however, exists in America: there is nothing above the countycourts, which have, as it were, only an incidental cognizance
of the offences they are meant to repress.

Democracy in America
anarchy; nor does he perceive his mistake till he has gone
deeper into the subject. Certain undertakings are of importance to the whole State; but they cannot be put in execution, because there is no national administration to direct
them. Abandoned to the exertions of the towns or counties,
under the care of elected or temporary agents, they lead to
no result, or at least to no durable benefit.
The partisans of centralization in Europe are wont to maintain that the Government directs the affairs of each locality
better than the citizens could do it for themselves; this may
be true when the central power is enlightened, and when the
local districts are ignorant; when it is as alert as they are slow;
when it is accustomed to act, and they to obey. Indeed, it is
evident that this double tendency must augment with the
increase of centralization, and that the readiness of the one
and the incapacity of the others must become more and more
prominent. But I deny that such is the case when the people
is as enlightened, as awake to its interests, and as accustomed
to reflect on them, as the Americans are. I am persuaded, on
the contrary, that in this case the collective strength of the
citizens will always conduce more efficaciously to the public

welfare than the authority of the Government. It is difficult

to point out with certainty the means of arousing a sleeping
population, and of giving it passions and knowledge which
it does not possess; it is, I am well aware, an arduous task to
persuade men to busy themselves about their own affairs;
and it would frequently be easier to interest them in the punctilios of court etiquette than in the repairs of their common
dwelling. But whenever a central administration affects to
supersede the persons most interested, I am inclined to suppose that it is either misled or desirous to mislead. However
enlightened and however skilful a central power may be, it
cannot of itself embrace all the details of the existence of a
great nation. Such vigilance exceeds the powers of man. And
when it attempts to create and set in motion so many complicated springs, it must submit to a very imperfect result, or
consume itself in bootless efforts.
Centralization succeeds more easily, indeed, in subjecting
the external actions of men to a certain uniformity, which at
least commands our regard, independently of the objects to
which it is applied, like those devotees who worship the statue
and forget the deity it represents. Centralization imparts

without difficulty an admirable regularity to the routine of
business; provides for the details of the social police with
sagacity; represses the smallest disorder and the most petty
misdemeanors; maintains society in a status quo alike secure
from improvement and decline; and perpetuates a drowsy
precision in the conduct of affairs, which is hailed by the
heads of the administration as a sign of perfect order and
public tranquillity: *s in short, it excels more in prevention
than in action. Its force deserts it when society is to be disturbed or accelerated in its course; and if once the co-operation of private citizens is necessary to the furtherance of its
measures, the secret of its impotence is disclosed. Even whilst
it invokes their assistance, it is on the condition that they
shall act exactly as much as the Government chooses, and
*China appears to me to present the most perfect instance of
that species of well-being which a completely central administration may furnish to the nations among which it exists.
Travellers assure us that the Chinese have peace without happiness, industry without improvement, stability without
strength, and public order without public morality. The condition of society is always tolerable, never excellent. I am
convinced that, when China is opened to European observation, it will be found to contain the most perfect model of
a central administration which exists in the universe.

exactly in the manner it appoints. They are to take charge of

the details, without aspiring to guide the system; they are to
work in a dark and subordinate sphere, and only to judge
the acts in which they have themselves cooperated by their
results.: These, however, are not conditions on which the
alliance of the human will is to be obtained; its carriage must
be free and its actions responsible, or (such is the constitution of man) the citizen had rather remain a passive spectator than a dependent actor in schemes with which he is unacquainted.
It is undeniable that the want of those uniform regulations which control the conduct of every inhabitant of France
is not unfrequently felt in the United States. Gross instances
of social indifference and neglect are to be met with, and
from time to time disgraceful blemishes are seen in complete
contrast with the surrounding civilization. Useful undertakings which cannot succeed without perpetual attention and
rigorous exactitude are very frequently abandoned in the end;
for in America, as well as in other countries, the people is
subject to sudden impulses and momentary exertions. The
European who is accustomed to find a functionary always at

Democracy in America
hand to interfere with all he undertakes has some difficulty drawn between the finances of France and those of the United
States, has proved that ingenuity cannot always supply the
in accustoming himself to the complex mechanism of the
place of a knowledge of facts, very justly reproaches the
administration of the townships. In general it may be afAmericans for the sort of confusion which exists in the acfirmed that the lesser details of the police, which render life counts of the expenditure in the townships; and after giving
easy and comfortable, are neglected in America; but that the the model of a departmental budget in France, he adds:
We are indebted to centralization, that admirable invenessential guarantees of man in society are as strong there as tion of a great man, for the uniform order and method which
elsewhere. In America the power which conducts the Govprevail alike in all the municipal budgets, from the largest
ernment is far less regular, less enlightened, and less learned, town to the humblest commune. Whatever may be my admiration of this result, when I see the communes of France,
but an hundredfold more authoritative than in Europe. In
with their excellent system of accounts, plunged into the
no country in the world do the citizens make such exertions grossest ignorance of their true interests, and abandoned to
so incorrigible an apathy that they seem to vegetate rather
for the common weal; and I am acquainted with no people
than to live; when, on the other hand, I observe the activity,
which has established schools as numerous and as efficacious,
the information, and the spirit of enterprise which keep soplaces of public worship better suited to the wants of the
ciety in perpetual labor, in those American townships whose
inhabitants, or roads kept in better repair. Uniformity or perbudgets are drawn up with small method and with still less
manence of design, the minute arrangement of details,* and uniformity, I am struck by the spectacle; for to my mind the
end of a good government is to ensure the welfare of a people,
the perfection of an ingenious administration, must not be
and not to establish order and regularity in the midst of its
sought for in the United States; but it will be easy to find, on
misery and its distress. I am therefore led to suppose that the
the other hand, the symptoms of a power which, if it is some- prosperity of the American townships and the apparent conwhat barbarous, is at least robust; and of an existence which fusion of their accounts, the distress of the French communes
and the perfection of their budget, may be attributable to
is checkered with accidents indeed, but cheered at the same the same cause. At any rate I am suspicious of a benefit which
time by animation and effort.
is united to so many evils, and I am not averse to an evil
*A writer of talent, who, in the comparison which he has which is compensated by so many benefits.

Granting for an instant that the villages and counties of
the United States would be more usefully governed by a remote authority which they had never seen than by functionaries taken from the midst of them admitting, for the sake
of argument, that the country would be more secure, and
the resources of society better employed, if the whole administration centred in a single arm still the political advantages which the Americans derive from their system would
induce me to prefer it to the contrary plan. It profits me but
little, after all, that a vigilant authority should protect the
tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly avert all dangers
from my path, without my care or my concern, if this same
authority is the absolute mistress of my liberty and of my
life, and if it so monopolizes all the energy of existence that
when it languishes everything languishes around it, that when
it sleeps everything must sleep, that when it dies the State
itself must perish.
In certain countries of Europe the natives consider themselves as a kind of settlers, indifferent to the fate of the spot
upon which they live. The greatest changes are effected without their concurrence and (unless chance may have apprised

them of the event) without their knowledge; nay more, the

citizen is unconcerned as to the condition of his village, the
police of his street, the repairs of the church or of the parsonage; for he looks upon all these things as unconnected
with himself, and as the property of a powerful stranger whom
he calls the Government. He has only a life-interest in these
possessions, and he entertains no notions of ownership or of
improvement. This want of interest in his own affairs goes
so far that, if his own safety or that of his children is endangered, instead of trying to avert the peril, he will fold his
arms, and wait till the nation comes to his assistance. This
same individual, who has so completely sacrificed his own
free will, has no natural propensity to obedience; he cowers,
it is true, before the pettiest officer; but he braves the law
with the spirit of a conquered foe as soon as its superior force
is removed: his oscillations between servitude and license are
perpetual. When a nation has arrived at this state it must
either change its customs and its laws or perish: the source of
public virtue is dry, and, though it may contain subjects, the
race of citizens is extinct. Such communities are a natural
prey to foreign conquests, and if they do not disappear from

Democracy in America
the scene of life, it is because they are surrounded by other
nations similar or inferior to themselves: it is because the
instinctive feeling of their countrys claims still exists in their
hearts; and because an involuntary pride in the name it bears,
or a vague reminiscence of its bygone fame, suffices to give
them the impulse of self- preservation.
Nor can the prodigious exertions made by tribes in the
defence of a country to which they did not belong be adduced in favor of such a system; for it will be found that in
these cases their main incitement was religion. The permanence, the glory, or the prosperity of the nation were become parts of their faith, and in defending the country they
inhabited they defended that Holy City of which they were
all citizens. The Turkish tribes have never taken an active
share in the conduct of the affairs of society, but they accomplished stupendous enterprises as long as the victories of the
Sultan were the triumphs of the Mohammedan faith. In the
present age they are in rapid decay, because their religion is
departing, and despotism only remains. Montesquieu, who
attributed to absolute power an authority peculiar to itself,
did it, as I conceive, an undeserved honor; for despotism,

taken by itself, can produce no durable results. On close inspection we shall find that religion, and not fear, has ever
been the cause of the long-lived prosperity of an absolute
government. Whatever exertions may be made, no true power
can be founded among men which does not depend upon
the free union of their inclinations; and patriotism and religion are the only two motives in the world which can permanently direct the whole of a body politic to one end.
Laws cannot succeed in rekindling the ardor of an extinguished faith, but men may be interested in the fate of their
country by the laws. By this influence the vague impulse of
patriotism, which never abandons the human heart, may be
directed and revived; and if it be connected with the thoughts,
the passions, and the daily habits of life, it may be consolidated into a durable and rational sentiment.
Let it not be said that the time for the experiment is already past; for the old age of nations is not like the old age of
men, and every fresh generation is a new people ready for
the care of the legislator.
It is not the administrative but the political effects of the
local system that I most admire in America. In the United

States the interests of the country are everywhere kept in
view; they are an object of solicitude to the people of the
whole Union, and every citizen is as warmly attached to them
as if they were his own. He takes pride in the glory of his
nation; he boasts of its success, to which he conceives himself to have contributed, and he rejoices in the general prosperity by which he profits. The feeling he entertains towards
the State is analogous to that which unites him to his family,
and it is by a kind of egotism that he interests himself in the
welfare of his country.
The European generally submits to a public officer because he represents a superior force; but to an American he
represents a right. In America it may be said that no one
renders obedience to man, but to justice and to law. If the
opinion which the citizen entertains of himself is exaggerated, it is at least salutary; he unhesitatingly confides in his
own powers, which appear to him to be all-sufficient. When
a private individual meditates an undertaking, however directly connected it may be with the welfare of society, he
never thinks of soliciting the co-operation of the Government, but he publishes his plan, offers to execute it himself,

courts the assistance of other individuals, and struggles manfully against all obstacles. Undoubtedly he is often less successful than the State might have been in his position; but in
the end the sum of these private undertakings far exceeds all
that the Government could have done.
As the administrative authority is within the reach of the
citizens, whom it in some degree represents, it excites neither their jealousy nor their hatred; as its resources are limited, every one feels that he must not rely solely on its assistance. Thus, when the administration thinks fit to interfere,
it is not abandoned to itself as in Europe; the duties of the
private citizens are not supposed to have lapsed because the
State assists in their fulfilment, but every one is ready, on the
contrary, to guide and to support it. This action of individual exertions, joined to that of the public authorities, frequently performs what the most energetic central administration would be unable to execute. It would be easy to adduce several facts in proof of what I advance, but I had rather
give only one, with which I am more thoroughly acquainted.*
In America the means which the authorities have at their
*See Appendix, I.

Democracy in America
disposal for the discovery of crimes and the arrest of criminals are few. The State police does not exist, and passports
are unknown. The criminal police of the United States cannot be compared to that of France; the magistrates and public prosecutors are not numerous, and the examinations of
prisoners are rapid and oral. Nevertheless in no country does
crime more rarely elude punishment. The reason is, that every one conceives himself to be interested in furnishing evidence of the act committed, and in stopping the delinquent.
During my stay in the United States I witnessed the spontaneous formation of committees for the pursuit and prosecution of a man who had committed a great crime in a certain
county. In Europe a criminal is an unhappy being who is
struggling for his life against the ministers of justice, whilst
the population is merely a spectator of the conflict; in America
he is looked upon as an enemy of the human race, and the
whole of mankind is against him.
I believe that provincial institutions are useful to all nations, but nowhere do they appear to me to be more indispensable than amongst a democratic people. In an aristocracy order can always be maintained in the midst of liberty,

and as the rulers have a great deal to lose order is to them a

first-rate consideration. In like manner an aristocracy protects the people from the excesses of despotism, because it
always possesses an organized power ready to resist a despot.
But a democracy without provincial institutions has no security against these evils. How can a populace, unaccustomed
to freedom in small concerns, learn to use it temperately in
great affairs? What resistance can be offered to tyranny in a
country where every private individual is impotent, and where
the citizens are united by no common tie? Those who dread
the license of the mob, and those who fear the rule of absolute power, ought alike to desire the progressive growth of
provincial liberties.
On the other hand, I am convinced that democratic nations are most exposed to fall beneath the yoke of a central
administration, for several reasons, amongst which is the following. The constant tendency of these nations is to concentrate all the strength of the Government in the hands of
the only power which directly represents the people, because
beyond the people nothing is to be perceived but a mass of
equal individuals confounded together. But when the same

power is already in possession of all the attributes of the Government, it can scarcely refrain from penetrating into the
details of the administration, and an opportunity of doing
so is sure to present itself in the end, as was the case in France.
In the French Revolution there were two impulses in opposite directions, which must never be confounded the one
was favorable to liberty, the other to despotism. Under the
ancient monarchy the King was the sole author of the laws,
and below the power of the sovereign certain vestiges of provincial institutions, half destroyed, were still distinguishable.
These provincial institutions were incoherent, ill compacted,
and frequently absurd; in the hands of the aristocracy they
had sometimes been converted into instruments of oppression. The Revolution declared itself the enemy of royalty
and of provincial institutions at the same time; it confounded
all that had preceded it -despotic power and the checks to its
abuses in indiscriminate hatred, and its tendency was at
once to overthrow and to centralize. This double character
of the French Revolution is a fact which has been adroitly
handled by the friends of absolute power. Can they be accused of laboring in the cause of despotism when they are

defending that central administration which was one of the

great innovations of the Revolution?* In this manner popularity may be conciliated with hostility to the rights of the
people, and the secret slave of tyranny may be the professed
admirer of freedom.
I have visited the two nations in which the system of provincial liberty has been most perfectly established, and I have
listened to the opinions of different parties in those countries. In America I met with men who secretly aspired to
destroy the democratic institutions of the Union; in England
I found others who attacked the aristocracy openly, but I
know of no one who does not regard provincial independence as a great benefit. In both countries I have heard a
thousand different causes assigned for the evils of the State,
but the local system was never mentioned amongst them. I
have heard citizens attribute the power and prosperity of their
country to a multitude of reasons, but they all placed the
advantages of local institutions in the foremost rank. Am I
to suppose that when men who are naturally so divided on
religious opinions and on political theories agree on one point
See Appendix K.

Democracy in America
(and that one of which they have daily experience), they are
all in error? The only nations which deny the utility of provincial liberties are those which have fewest of them; in other
words, those who are unacquainted with the institution are
the only persons who pass a censure upon it.

Chapter VI: Judicial Power in the United States

Chapter Summary
The Anglo-Americans have retained the characteristics of
judicial power which are common to all nations They have,
however, made it a powerful political organ How In what
the judicial system of the Anglo-Americans differs from that
of all other nations Why the American judges have the
right of declaring the laws to be unconstitutional How
they use this right Precautions taken by the legislator to
prevent its abuse.

Judicial Power in the United States and Its Influence on

Political Society
I have thought it essential to devote a separate chapter to the
judicial authorities of the United States, lest their great political importance should be lessened in the readers eyes by a
merely incidental mention of them. Confederations have
existed in other countries beside America, and republics have
not been established upon the shores of the New World alone;
the representative system of government has been adopted
in several States of Europe, but I am not aware that any nation of the globe has hitherto organized a judicial power on
the principle now adopted by the Americans. The judicial
organization of the United States is the institution which a
stranger has the greatest difficulty in understanding. He hears
the authority of a judge invoked in the political occurrences
of every day, and he naturally concludes that in the United
States the judges are important political functionaries; nevertheless, when he examines the nature of the tribunals, they
offer nothing which is contrary to the usual habits and privileges of those bodies, and the magistrates seem to him to

interfere in public affairs of chance, but by a chance which
recurs every day.
When the Parliament of Paris remonstrated, or refused to
enregister an edict, or when it summoned a functionary accused of malversation to its bar, its political influence as a
judicial body was clearly visible; but nothing of the kind is
to be seen in the United States. The Americans have retained
all the ordinary characteristics of judicial authority, and have
carefully restricted its action to the ordinary circle of its functions.
The first characteristic of judicial power in all nations is
the duty of arbitration. But rights must be contested in order to warrant the interference of a tribunal; and an action
must be brought to obtain the decision of a judge. As long,
therefore, as the law is uncontested, the judicial authority is
not called upon to discuss it, and it may exist without being
perceived. When a judge in a given case attacks a law relating to that case, he extends the circle of his customary duties, without however stepping beyond it; since he is in some
measure obliged to decide upon the law in order to decide
the case. But if he pronounces upon a law without resting

upon a case, he clearly steps beyond his sphere, and invades

that of the legislative authority.
The second characteristic of judicial power is that it pronounces on special cases, and not upon general principles. If
a judge in deciding a particular point destroys a general principle, by passing a judgment which tends to reject all the
inferences from that principle, and consequently to annul it,
he remains within the ordinary limits of his functions. But if
he directly attacks a general principle without having a particular case in view, he leaves the circle in which all nations
have agreed to confine his authority, he assumes a more important, and perhaps a more useful, influence than that of
the magistrate, but he ceases to be a representative of the
judicial power.
The third characteristic of the judicial power is its inability
to act unless it is appealed to, or until it has taken cognizance of an affair. This characteristic is less general than the
other two; but, notwithstanding the exceptions, I think it
may be regarded as essential. The judicial power is by its
nature devoid of action; it must be put in motion in order to

Democracy in America
produce a result. When it is called upon to repress a crime, it
punishes the criminal; when a wrong is to be redressed, it is
ready to redress it; when an act requires interpretation, it is
prepared to interpret it; but it does not pursue criminals,
hunt out wrongs, or examine into evidence of its own accord. A judicial functionary who should open proceedings,
and usurp the censorship of the laws, would in some measure do violence to the passive nature of his authority.
The Americans have retained these three distinguishing
characteristics of the judicial power; an American judge can
only pronounce a decision when litigation has arisen, he is
only conversant with special cases, and he cannot act until
the cause has been duly brought before the court. His position is therefore perfectly similar to that of the magistrate of
other nations; and he is nevertheless invested with immense
political power. If the sphere of his authority and his means
of action are the same as those of other judges, it may be
asked whence he derives a power which they do not possess.
The cause of this difference lies in the simple fact that the
Americans have acknowledged the right of the judges to
found their decisions on the constitution rather than on the

laws. In other words, they have left them at liberty not to

apply such laws as may appear to them to be unconstitutional.
I am aware that a similar right has been claimed but
claimed in vain -by courts of justice in other countries; but
in America it is recognized by all authorities; and not a party,
nor so much as an individual, is found to contest it. This fact
can only be explained by the principles of the American constitution. In France the constitution is (or at least is supposed to be) immutable; and the received theory is that no
power has the right of changing any part of it. In England
the Parliament has an acknowledged right to modify the constitution; as, therefore, the constitution may undergo perpetual changes, it does not in reality exist; the Parliament is
at once a legislative and a constituent assembly. The political
theories of America are more simple and more rational. An
American constitution is not supposed to be immutable as
in France, nor is it susceptible of modification by the ordinary powers of society as in England. It constitutes a detached whole, which, as it represents the determination of
the whole people, is no less binding on the legislator than on

the private citizen, but which may be altered by the will of
the people in predetermined cases, according to established
rules. In America the constitution may therefore vary, but as
long as it exists it is the origin of all authority, and the sole
vehicle of the predominating force.*
It is easy to perceive in what manner these differences must
act upon the position and the rights of the judicial bodies in
the three countries I have cited. If in France the tribunals
were authorized to disobey the laws on the ground of their
being opposed to the constitution, the supreme power would
in fact be placed in their hands, since they alone would have
the right of interpreting a constitution, the clauses of which
can be modified by no authority. They would therefore take
*[The fifth article of the original Constitution of the United
States provides the mode in which amendments of the Constitution may be made. Amendments must be proposed by
two-thirds of both Houses of Congress, and ratified by the
Legislatures of three-fourths of the several States. Fifteen
amendments of the Constitution have been made at different times since 1789, the most important of which are the
Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth, framed and ratified
after the Civil War. The original Constitution of the United
States, followed by these fifteen amendments, is printed at
the end of this edition. Translators Note, 1874.]

the place of the nation, and exercise as absolute a sway over

society as the inherent weakness of judicial power would allow them to do. Undoubtedly, as the French judges are incompetent to declare a law to be unconstitutional, the power
of changing the constitution is indirectly given to the legislative body, since no legal barrier would oppose the alterations which it might prescribe. But it is better to grant the
power of changing the constitution of the people to men
who represent (however imperfectly) the will of the people,
than to men who represent no one but themselves.
It would be still more unreasonable to invest the English
judges with the right of resisting the decisions of the legislative body, since the Parliament which makes the laws also
makes the constitution; and consequently a law emanating
from the three powers of the State can in no case be unconstitutional. But neither of these remarks is applicable to
In the United States the constitution governs the legislator
as much as the private citizen; as it is the first of laws it cannot be modified by a law, and it is therefore just that the
tribunals should obey the constitution in preference to any

Democracy in America
law. This condition is essential to the power of the judicature, for to select that legal obligation by which he is most
strictly bound is the natural right of every magistrate.
In France the constitution is also the first of laws, and the
judges have the same right to take it as the ground of their
decisions, but were they to exercise this right they must perforce encroach on rights more sacred than their own, namely,
on those of society, in whose name they are acting. In this
case the State- motive clearly prevails over the motives of an
individual. In America, where the nation can always reduce
its magistrates to obedience by changing its constitution, no
danger of this kind is to be feared. Upon this point, therefore, the political and the logical reasons agree, and the people
as well as the judges preserve their privileges.
Whenever a law which the judge holds to be unconstitutional is argued in a tribunal of the United States he may
refuse to admit it as a rule; this power is the only one which
is peculiar to the American magistrate, but it gives rise to
immense political influence. Few laws can escape the searching analysis of the judicial power for any length of time, for
there are few which are not prejudicial to some private inter-

est or other, and none which may not be brought before a

court of justice by the choice of parties, or by the necessity
of the case. But from the time that a judge has refused to
apply any given law in a case, that law loses a portion of its
moral cogency. The persons to whose interests it is prejudicial learn that means exist of evading its authority, and similar suits are multiplied, until it becomes powerless. One of
two alternatives must then be resorted to: the people must
alter the constitution, or the legislature must repeal the law.
The political power which the Americans have intrusted to
their courts of justice is therefore immense, but the evils of
this power are considerably diminished by the obligation
which has been imposed of attacking the laws through the
courts of justice alone. If the judge had been empowered to
contest the laws on the ground of theoretical generalities, if
he had been enabled to open an attack or to pass a censure
on the legislator, he would have played a prominent part in
the political sphere; and as the champion or the antagonist
of a party, he would have arrayed the hostile passions of the
nation in the conflict. But when a judge contests a law applied to some particular case in an obscure proceeding, the

importance of his attack is concealed from the public gaze,
his decision bears upon the interest of an individual, and if
the law is slighted it is only collaterally. Moreover, although
it is censured, it is not abolished; its moral force may be
diminished, but its cogency is by no means suspended, and
its final destruction can only be accomplished by the reiterated attacks of judicial functionaries. It will readily be understood that by connecting the censorship of the laws with
the private interests of members of the community, and by
intimately uniting the prosecution of the law with the prosecution of an individual, legislation is protected from wanton assailants, and from the daily aggressions of party spirit.
The errors of the legislator are exposed whenever their evil
consequences are most felt, and it is always a positive and
appreciable fact which serves as the basis of a prosecution.
I am inclined to believe this practice of the American courts
to be at once the most favorable to liberty as well as to public
order. If the judge could only attack the legislator openly
and directly, he would sometimes be afraid to oppose any
resistance to his will; and at other moments party spirit might
encourage him to brave it at every turn. The laws would

consequently be attacked when the power from which they

emanate is weak, and obeyed when it is strong. That is to
say, when it would be useful to respect them they would be
contested, and when it would be easy to convert them into
an instrument of oppression they would be respected. But
the American judge is brought into the political arena independently of his own will. He only judges the law because
he is obliged to judge a case. The political question which he
is called upon to resolve is connected with the interest of the
suitors, and he cannot refuse to decide it without abdicating
the duties of his post. He performs his functions as a citizen
by fulfilling the precise duties which belong to his profession as a magistrate. It is true that upon this system the judicial censorship which is exercised by the courts of justice
over the legislation cannot extend to all laws indiscriminately,
inasmuch as some of them can never give rise to that exact
species of contestation which is termed a lawsuit; and even
when such a contestation is possible, it may happen that no
one cares to bring it before a court of justice. The Americans
have often felt this disadvantage, but they have left the remedy incomplete, lest they should give it an efficacy which

Democracy in America
might in some cases prove dangerous. Within these limits
the power vested in the American courts of justice of pronouncing a statute to be unconstitutional forms one of the
most powerful barriers which has ever been devised against
the tyranny of political assemblies.
Other Powers Granted To American Judges
The United States all the citizens have the right of indicting
public functionaries before the ordinary tribunals How they
use this right Art. 75 of the French Constitution of the An
VIII The Americans and the English cannot understand
the purport of this clause.
It is perfectly natural that in a free country like America all
the citizens should have the right of indicting public functionaries before the ordinary tribunals, and that all the judges
should have the power of punishing public offences. The
right granted to the courts of justice of judging the agents of
the executive government, when they have violated the laws,
is so natural a one that it cannot be looked upon as an ex-

traordinary privilege. Nor do the springs of government appear to me to be weakened in the United States by the custom which renders all public officers responsible to the judges
of the land. The Americans seem, on the contrary, to have
increased by this means that respect which is due to the authorities, and at the same time to have rendered those who
are in power more scrupulous of offending public opinion. I
was struck by the small number of political trials which occur in the United States, but I had no difficulty in accounting for this circumstance. A lawsuit, of whatever nature it
may be, is always a difficult and expensive undertaking. It is
easy to attack a public man in a journal, but the motives
which can warrant an action at law must be serious. A solid
ground of complaint must therefore exist to induce an individual to prosecute a public officer, and public officers are
careful not to furnish these grounds of complaint when they
are afraid of being prosecuted.
This does not depend upon the republican form of American institutions, for the same facts present themselves in
England. These two nations do not regard the impeachment
of the principal officers of State as a sufficient guarantee of

their independence. But they hold that the right of minor
prosecutions, which are within the reach of the whole community, is a better pledge of freedom than those great judicial actions which are rarely employed until it is too late.
In the Middle Ages, when it was very difficult to overtake
offenders, the judges inflicted the most dreadful tortures on
the few who were arrested, which by no means diminished
the number of crimes. It has since been discovered that when
justice is more certain and more mild, it is at the same time
more efficacious. The English and the Americans hold that
tyranny and oppression are to be treated like any other crime,
by lessening the penalty and facilitating conviction.
In the year VIII of the French Republic a constitution was
drawn up in which the following clause was introduced: Art.
75. All the agents of the government below the rank of ministers can only be prosecuted for offences relating to their
several functions by virtue of a decree of the Conseil dEtat;
in which the case the prosecution takes place before the ordinary tribunals. This clause survived the Constitution de
lAn VIII, and it is still maintained in spite of the just complaints of the nation. I have always found the utmost diffi-

culty in explaining its meaning to Englishmen or Americans. They were at once led to conclude that the Conseil
dEtat in France was a great tribunal, established in the centre of the kingdom, which exercised a preliminary and somewhat tyrannical jurisdiction in all political causes. But when
I told them that the Conseil dEtat was not a judicial body,
in the common sense of the term, but an administrative council composed of men dependent on the Crown, so that the
king, after having ordered one of his servants, called a Prefect, to commit an injustice, has the power of commanding
another of his servants, called a Councillor of State, to prevent the former from being punished; when I demonstrated
to them that the citizen who has been injured by the order of
the sovereign is obliged to solicit from the sovereign permission to obtain redress, they refused to credit so flagrant an
abuse, and were tempted to accuse me of falsehood or of
ignorance. It frequently happened before the Revolution that
a Parliament issued a warrant against a public officer who
had committed an offence, and sometimes the proceedings
were stopped by the authority of the Crown, which enforced
compliance with its absolute and despotic will. It is painful

Democracy in America
to perceive how much lower we are sunk than our forefathers, since we allow things to pass under the color of justice
and the sanction of the law which violence alone could impose upon them.

Chapter VII: Political Jurisdiction In The United

Chapter Summary
Definition of political jurisdiction What is understood by
political jurisdiction in France, in England, and in the United
States In America the political judge can only pass sentence on public officers He more frequently passes a sentence of removal from office than a penalty Political jurisdiction as it exists in the United States is, notwithstanding
its mildness, and perhaps in consequence of that mildness, a
most powerful instrument in the hands of the majority.

Political Jurisdiction In The United States

I understand, by political jurisdiction, that temporary right
of pronouncing a legal decision with which a political body
may be invested.
In absolute governments no utility can accrue from the
introduction of extraordinary forms of procedure; the prince
in whose name an offender is prosecuted is as much the sovereign of the courts of justice as of everything else, and the
idea which is entertained of his power is of itself a sufficient
security. The only thing he has to fear is, that the external
formalities of justice should be neglected, and that his authority should be dishonored from a wish to render it more
absolute. But in most free countries, in which the majority
can never exercise the same influence upon the tribunals as
an absolute monarch, the judicial power has occasionally been
vested for a time in the representatives of the nation. It has
been thought better to introduce a temporary confusion between the functions of the different authorities than to violate the necessary principle of the unity of government.
England, France, and the United States have established

this political jurisdiction by law; and it is curious to examine
the different adaptations which these three great nations have
made of the principle. In England and in France the House
of Lords and the Chambre des Paris *a constitute the highest
criminal court of their respective nations, and although they
do not habitually try all political offences, they are competent to try them all. Another political body enjoys the right
of impeachment before the House of Lords: the only difference which exists between the two countries in this respect
is, that in England the Commons may impeach whomsoever they please before the Lords, whilst in France the Deputies can only employ this mode of prosecution against the
ministers of the Crown.
In both countries the Upper House may make use of all
the existing penal laws of the nation to punish the delinquents.
In the United States, as well as in Europe, one branch of
the legislature is authorized to impeach and another to judge:
the House of Representatives arraigns the offender, and the
Senate awards his sentence. But the Senate can only try such
*[As it existed under the constitutional monarchy down to

persons as are brought before it by the House of Representatives, and those persons must belong to the class of public
functionaries. Thus the jurisdiction of the Senate is less extensive than that of the Peers of France, whilst the right of
impeachment by the Representatives is more general than
that of the Deputies. But the great difference which exists
between Europe and America is, that in Europe political tribunals are empowered to inflict all the dispositions of the
penal code, while in America, when they have deprived the
offender of his official rank, and have declared him incapable of filling any political office for the future, their jurisdiction terminates and that of the ordinary tribunals begins.
Suppose, for instance, that the President of the United
States has committed the crime of high treason; the House
of Representatives impeaches him, and the Senate degrades
him; he must then be tried by a jury, which alone can deprive him of his liberty or his life. This accurately illustrates
the subject we are treating. The political jurisdiction which
is established by the laws of Europe is intended to try great
offenders, whatever may be their birth, their rank, or their
powers in the State; and to this end all the privileges of the

Democracy in America
courts of justice are temporarily extended to a great political
assembly. The legislator is then transformed into the magistrate; he is called upon to admit, to distinguish, and to punish the offence; and as he exercises all the authority of a judge,
the law restricts him to the observance of all the duties of
that high office, and of all the formalities of justice. When a
public functionary is impeached before an English or a French
political tribunal, and is found guilty, the sentence deprives
him ipso facto of his functions, and it may pronounce him
to be incapable of resuming them or any others for the future. But in this case the political interdict is a consequence
of the sentence, and not the sentence itself. In Europe the
sentence of a political tribunal is to be regarded as a judicial
verdict rather than as an administrative measure. In the
United States the contrary takes place; and although the decision of the Senate is judicial in its form, since the Senators
are obliged to comply with the practices and formalities of a
court of justice; although it is judicial in respect to the motives on which it is founded, since the Senate is in general
obliged to take an offence at common law as the basis of its
sentence; nevertheless the object of the proceeding is purely

administrative. If it had been the intention of the American

legislator to invest a political body with great judicial authority, its action would not have been limited to the circle
of public functionaries, since the most dangerous enemies of
the State may be in the possession of no functions at all; and
this is especially true in republics, where party influence is
the first of authorities, and where the strength of many a
reader is increased by his exercising no legal power.
If it had been the intention of the American legislator to
give society the means of repressing State offences by exemplary punishment, according to the practice of ordinary justice, the resources of the penal code would all have been
placed at the disposal of the political tribunals. But the
weapon with which they are intrusted is an imperfect one,
and it can never reach the most dangerous offenders, since
men who aim at the entire subversion of the laws are not
likely to murmur at a political interdict.
The main object of the political jurisdiction which obtains in the United States is, therefore, to deprive the illdisposed citizen of an authority which he has used amiss,
and to prevent him from ever acquiring it again. This is evi126

dently an administrative measure sanctioned by the formalities of a judicial decision. In this matter the Americans have
created a mixed system; they have surrounded the act which
removes a public functionary with the securities of a political trial; and they have deprived all political condemnations
of their severest penalties. Every link of the system may easily be traced from this point; we at once perceive why the
American constitutions subject all the civil functionaries to
the jurisdiction of the Senate, whilst the military, whose
crimes are nevertheless more formidable, are exempted from
that tribunal. In the civil service none of the American functionaries can be said to be removable; the places which some
of them occupy are inalienable, and the others are chosen
for a term which cannot be shortened. It is therefore necessary to try them all in order to deprive them of their authority. But military officers are dependent on the chief magistrate of the State, who is himself a civil functionary, and the
decision which condemns him is a blow upon them all.
If we now compare the American and the European systems, we shall meet with differences no less striking in the
different effects which each of them produces or may pro-

duce. In France and in England the jurisdiction of political

bodies is looked upon as an extraordinary resource, which is
only to be employed in order to rescue society from unwonted
dangers. It is not to be denied that these tribunals, as they
are constituted in Europe, are apt to violate the conservative
principle of the balance of power in the State, and to threaten
incessantly the lives and liberties of the subject. The same
political jurisdiction in the United States is only indirectly
hostile to the balance of power; it cannot menace the lives of
the citizens, and it does not hover, as in Europe, over the
heads of the community, since those only who have submitted to its authority on accepting office are exposed to the
severity of its investigations. It is at the same time less formidable and less efficacious; indeed, it has not been considered
by the legislators of the United States as a remedy for the
more violent evils of society, but as an ordinary means of
conducting the government. In this respect it probably exercises more real influence on the social body in America than
in Europe. We must not be misled by the apparent mildness
of the American legislation in all that relates to political jurisdiction. It is to be observed, in the first place, that in the

Democracy in America
United States the tribunal which passes sentence is composed
of the same elements, and subject to the same influences, as
the body which impeaches the offender, and that this uniformity gives an almost irresistible impulse to the vindictive
passions of parties. If political judges in the United States
cannot inflict such heavy penalties as those of Europe, there
is the less chance of their acquitting a prisoner; and the conviction, if it is less formidable, is more certain. The principal
object of the political tribunals of Europe is to punish the
offender; the purpose of those in America is to deprive him
of his authority. A political condemnation in the United States
may, therefore, be looked upon as a preventive measure; and
there is no reason for restricting the judges to the exact definitions of criminal law. Nothing can be more alarming than
the excessive latitude with which political offences are described in the laws of America. Article II., Section 4, of the
Constitution of the United States runs thus: The President, Vice-President, and all civil officers of the United States
shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. Many of the Constitutions of the States are even

less explicit. Public officers, says the Constitution of Massachusetts,* shall be impeached for misconduct or maladministration; the Constitution of Virginia declares that all
the civil officers who shall have offended against the State,
by maladministration, corruption, or other high crimes, may
be impeached by the House of Delegates; in some constitutions no offences are specified, in order to subject the public
functionaries to an unlimited responsibility.** But I will venture to affirm that it is precisely their mildness which renders the American laws most formidable in this respect. We
have shown that in Europe the removal of a functionary and
his political interdiction are the consequences of the penalty
he is to undergo, and that in America they constitute the
penalty itself. The consequence is that in Europe political
tribunals are invested with rights which they are afraid to
use, and that the fear of punishing too much hinders them
from punishing at all. But in America no one hesitates to
inflict a penalty from which humanity does not recoil. To
condemn a political opponent to death, in order to deprive
*Chap. I. sect. ii. Section 8.
**See the constitutions of Illinois, Maine, Connecticut, and

him of his power, is to commit what all the world would
execrate as a horrible assassination; but to declare that opponent unworthy to exercise that authority, to deprive him of
it, and to leave him uninjured in life and limb, may be judged
to be the fair issue of the struggle. But this sentence, which it
is so easy to pronounce, is not the less fatally severe to the
majority of those upon whom it is inflicted. Great criminals
may undoubtedly brave its intangible rigor, but ordinary offenders will dread it as a condemnation which destroys their
position in the world, casts a blight upon their honor, and
condemns them to a shameful inactivity worse than death.
The influence exercised in the United States upon the progress
of society by the jurisdiction of political bodies may not appear to be formidable, but it is only the more immense. It
does not directly coerce the subject, but it renders the majority more absolute over those in power; it does not confer
an unbounded authority on the legislator which can be exerted at some momentous crisis, but it establishes a temperate and regular influence, which is at all times available. If
the power is decreased, it can, on the other hand, be more
conveniently employed and more easily abused. By prevent-

ing political tribunals from inflicting judicial punishments

the Americans seem to have eluded the worst consequences
of legislative tyranny, rather than tyranny itself; and I am
not sure that political jurisdiction, as it is constituted in the
United States, is not the most formidable weapon which has
ever been placed in the rude grasp of a popular majority.
When the American republics begin to degenerate it will be
easy to verify the truth of this observation, by remarking
whether the number of political impeachments augments.*d

*See Appendix, N. [The impeachment of President Andrew

Johnson in 1868 which was resorted to by his political
opponents solely as a means of turning him out of office, for
it could not be contended that he had been guilty of high
crimes and misdemeanors, and he was in fact honorably acquitted and reinstated in office is a striking confirmation
of the truth of this remark. Translators Note, 1874.]

Democracy in America

Chapter VIII: The Federal Constitution Part I

History Of The Federal Constitution

The thirteen colonies which simultaneously threw off the

yoke of England towards the end of the last century professed, as I have already observed, the same religion, the same
language, the same customs, and almost the same laws; they
were struggling against a common enemy; and these reasons
were sufficiently strong to unite them one to another, and to
consolidate them into one nation. But as each of them had
enjoyed a separate existence and a government within its own
control, the peculiar interests and customs which resulted
from this system were opposed to a compact and intimate
union which would have absorbed the individual importance
of each in the general importance of all. Hence arose two
Chapter Summary
opposite tendencies, the one prompting the Anglo-Americans to unite, the other to divide their strength. As long as
Origin of the first Union Its weakness Congress appeals
the war with the mother-country lasted the principle of union
to the constituent authority Interval of two years between
was kept alive by necessity; and although the laws which
constituted it were defective, the common tie subsisted in
this appeal and the promulgation of the new Constitution.
spite of their imperfections.* But no sooner was peace con*See the articles of the first confederation formed in 1778. This
constitution was not adopted by all the States until 1781. See
also the analysis given of this constitution in The Federalist
from No. 15 to No. 22, inclusive, and Storys Commentaries
on the Constitution of the United States, pp. 85-115.
I have hitherto considered each State as a separate whole,
and I have explained the different springs which the people
sets in motion, and the different means of action which it
employs. But all the States which I have considered as independent are forced to submit, in certain cases, to the supreme authority of the Union. The time is now come for me
to examine separately the supremacy with which the Union
has been invested, and to cast a rapid glance over the Federal

cluded than the faults of the legislation became manifest,
and the State seemed to be suddenly dissolved. Each colony
became an independent republic, and assumed an absolute
sovereignty. The federal government, condemned to impotence by its constitution, and no longer sustained by the presence of a common danger, witnessed the outrages offered to
its flag by the great nations of Europe, whilst it was scarcely
able to maintain its ground against the Indian tribes, and to
pay the interest of the debt which had been contracted during the war of independence. It was already on the verge of
destruction, when it officially proclaimed its inability to conduct the government, and appealed to the constituent authority of the nation.* If America ever approached (for however brief a time) that lofty pinnacle of glory to which the
fancy of its inhabitants is wont to point, it was at the solemn
moment at which the power of the nation abdicated, as it
were, the empire of the land. All ages have furnished the
spectacle of a people struggling with energy to win its independence; and the efforts of the Americans in throwing off
the English yoke have been considerably exaggerated. Separated from their enemies by three thousand miles of ocean,
*Congress made this declaration on February 21, 1787.

and backed by a powerful ally, the success of the United States

may be more justly attributed to their geographical position
than to the valor of their armies or the patriotism of their
citizens. It would be ridiculous to compare the American
was to the wars of the French Revolution, or the efforts of
the Americans to those of the French when they were attacked by the whole of Europe, without credit and without
allies, yet capable of opposing a twentieth part of their population to the world, and of bearing the torch of revolution
beyond their frontiers whilst they stifled its devouring flame
within the bosom of their country. But it is a novelty in the
history of society to see a great people turn a calm and scrutinizing eye upon itself, when apprised by the legislature that
the wheels of government are stopped; to see it carefully examine the extent of the evil, and patiently wait for two whole
years until a remedy was discovered, which it voluntarily
adopted without having wrung a tear or a drop of blood
from mankind. At the time when the inadequacy of the first
constitution was discovered America possessed the double
advantage of that calm which had succeeded the effervescence of the revolution, and of those great men who had led

Democracy in America
the revolution to a successful issue. The assembly which accepted the task of composing the second constitution was
small;* but George Washington was its President, and it contained the choicest talents and the noblest hearts which had
ever appeared in the New World. This national commission,
after long and mature deliberation, offered to the acceptance
of the people the body of general laws which still rules the
Union. All the States adopted it successively.** The new Federal Government commenced its functions in 1789, after an
interregnum of two years. The Revolution of America terminated when that of France began.

*It consisted of fifty-five members; Washington, Madison,

Hamilton, and the two Morrises were amongst the number.
**It was not adopted by the legislative bodies, but representatives were elected by the people for this sole purpose; and
the new constitution was discussed at length in each of these

Summary Of The Federal Constitution

Division of authority between the Federal Government and
the States The Government of the States is the rule, the
Federal Government the exception.
The first question which awaited the Americans was intricate, and by no means easy of solution: the object was so to
divide the authority of the different States which composed
the Union that each of them should continue to govern itself in all that concerned its internal prosperity, whilst the
entire nation, represented by the Union, should continue to
form a compact body, and to provide for the general exigencies of the people. It was as impossible to determine beforehand, with any degree of accuracy, the share of authority
which each of two governments was to enjoy, as to foresee all
the incidents in the existence of a nation.
The obligations and the claims of the Federal Government
were simple and easily definable, because the Union had been
formed with the express purpose of meeting the general exigencies of the people; but the claims and obligations of the

States were, on the other hand, complicated and various,
because those Governments had penetrated into all the details of social life. The attributes of the Federal Government
were therefore carefully enumerated and all that was not included amongst them was declared to constitute a part of
the privileges of the several Governments of the States. Thus
the government of the States remained the rule, and that of
the Confederation became the exception.*
But as it was foreseen that, in practice, questions might arise
as to the exact limits of this exceptional authority, and that it
would be dangerous to submit these questions to the decision of the ordinary courts of justice, established in the States
*See the Amendment to the Federal Constitution; Federalist, No. 32; Story, p. 711; Kents Commentaries, vol. i. p.
It is to be observed that whenever the exclusive right of
regulating certain matters is not reserved to Congress by the
Constitution, the States may take up the affair until it is
brought before the National Assembly. For instance, Congress has the right of making a general law on bankruptcy,
which, however, it neglects to do. Each State is then at liberty to make a law for itself. This point has been established
by discussion in the law-courts, and may be said to belong
more properly to jurisprudence.

by the States themselves, a high Federal court was created,*

which was destined, amongst other functions, to maintain
the balance of power which had been established by the
Constitution between the two rival Governments.**
*The action of this court is indirect, as we shall hereafter show.
**It is thus that The Federalist, No. 45, explains the division of
supremacy between the Union and the States: The powers delegated by the Constitution to the Federal Government are few
and defined. Those which are to remain in the State Governments
are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign
commerce. The powers reserved to the several States will extend
to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern
the internal order and prosperity of the State. I shall often have
occasion to quote The Federalist in this work. When the bill
which has since become the Constitution of the United States was
submitted to the approval of the people, and the discussions were
still pending, three men, who had already acquired a portion of
that celebrity which they have since enjoyed John Jay, Hamilton,
and Madison formed an association with the intention of explaining to the nation the advantages of the measure which was
proposed. With this view they published a series of articles in the
shape of a journal, which now form a complete treatise. They entitled their journal The Federalist, a name which has been retained in the work. The Federalist is an excellent book, which
ought to be familiar to the statesmen of all countries, although it
especially concerns America.


Democracy in America
Prerogative of the Federal Government
Power of declaring war, making peace, and levying general
taxes vested in the Federal Government What part of the
internal policy of the country it may direct The Government of the Union in some respects more central than the
Kings Government in the old French monarchy.
The external relations of a people may be compared to those
of private individuals, and they cannot be advantageously
maintained without the agency of a single head of a Government. The exclusive right of making peace and war, of concluding treaties of commerce, of raising armies, and equipping fleets, was granted to the Union.* The necessity of a
national Government was less imperiously felt in the conduct of the internal policy of society; but there are certain
general interests which can only be attended to with advantage by a general authority. The Union was invested with the
power of controlling the monetary system, of directing the
*See Constitution, sect. 8; Federalist, Nos. 41 and 42;
Kents Commentaries, vol. i. p. 207; Story, pp. 358-382;
Ibid. pp. 409-426.

post office, and of opening the great roads which were to

establish a communication between the different parts of the
country.* The independence of the Government of each State
was formally recognized in its sphere; nevertheless, the Federal Government was authorized to interfere in the internal
affairs of the States** in a few predetermined cases, in which
an indiscreet abuse of their independence might compromise the security of the Union at large. Thus, whilst the power
of modifying and changing their legislation at pleasure was
preserved in all the republics, they were forbidden to enact
ex post facto laws, or to create a class of nobles in their community.*** Lastly, as it was necessary that the Federal Government should be able to fulfil its engagements, it was endowed with an unlimited power of levying taxes.****
*Several other privileges of the same kind exist, such as that
which empowers the Union to legislate on bankruptcy, to
grant patents, and other matters in which its intervention is
clearly necessary.
**Even in these cases its interference is indirect. The Union
interferes by means of the tribunals, as will be hereafter shown.
***Federal Constitution, sect. 10, art. I.
****Constitution, sects. 8, 9, and 10; Federalist, Nos. 3036, inclusive, and 41-44; Kents Commentaries, vol. i. pp.
207 and 381; Story, pp. 329 and 514.

In examining the balance of power as established by the
Federal Constitution; in remarking on the one hand the portion of sovereignty which has been reserved to the several States,
and on the other the share of power which the Union has
assumed, it is evident that the Federal legislators entertained
the clearest and most accurate notions on the nature of the
centralization of government. The United States form not only
a republic, but a confederation; nevertheless the authority of
the nation is more central than it was in several of the monarchies of Europe when the American Constitution was formed.
Take, for instance, the two following examples.
Thirteen supreme courts of justice existed in France, which,
generally speaking, had the right of interpreting the law without appeal; and those provinces which were styled pays detats
were authorized to refuse their assent to an impost which
had been levied by the sovereign who represented the nation. In the Union there is but one tribunal to interpret, as
there is one legislature to make the laws; and an impost voted
by the representatives of the nation is binding upon all the
citizens. In these two essential points, therefore, the Union
exercises more central authority than the French monarchy

possessed, although the Union is only an assemblage of confederate republics.

In Spain certain provinces had the right of establishing a
system of custom-house duties peculiar to themselves, although that privilege belongs, by its very nature, to the national sovereignty. In America the Congress alone has the
right of regulating the commercial relations of the States.
The government of the Confederation is therefore more centralized in this respect than the kingdom of Spain. It is true
that the power of the Crown in France or in Spain was always able to obtain by force whatever the Constitution of
the country denied, and that the ultimate result was consequently the same; but I am here discussing the theory of the
Federal Powers
After having settled the limits within which the Federal Government was to act, the next point was to determine the
powers which it was to exert.


Democracy in America
Legislative Powers*

had given rise to two opinions. It was the wish of one party
to convert the Union into a league of independent States, or
Division of the Legislative Body into two branches Differ- a sort of congress, at which the representatives of the several
ence in the manner of forming the two Houses The prin- peoples would meet to discuss certain points of their comciple of the independence of the States predominates in the mon interests. The other party desired to unite the inhabitformation of the Senate The principle of the sovereignty of
ants of the American colonies into one sole nation, and to
the nation in the composition of the House of Representa- establish a Government which should act as the sole repretives Singular effects of the fact that a Constitution can
sentative of the nation, as far as the limited sphere of its
only be logical in the early stages of a nation.
authority would permit. The practical consequences of these
two theories were exceedingly different.
The plan which had been laid down beforehand for the
The question was, whether a league was to be established
Constitutions of the several States was followed, in many
instead of a national Government; whether the majority of
points, in the organization of the powers of the Union. The
the State, instead of the majority of the inhabitants of the
Federal legislature of the Union was composed of a Senate
Union, was to give the law: for every State, the small as well
and a House of Representatives. A spirit of conciliation preas the great, would then remain in the full enjoyment of its
scribed the observance of distinct principles in the forma- independence, and enter the Union upon a footing of pertion of these two assemblies. I have already shown that two
fect equality. If, however, the inhabitants of the United States
contrary interests were opposed to each other in the estabwere to be considered as belonging to one and the same nalishment of the Federal Constitution. These two interests tion, it would be just that the majority of the citizens of the
Union should prescribe the law. Of course the lesser States
*In this chapter the author points out the essence of the conflict between the seceding States and the Union which caused could not subscribe to the application of this doctrine withthe Civil War of 1861.*
out, in fact, abdicating their existence in relation to the sov136

ereignty of the Confederation; since they would have passed
from the condition of a co-equal and co-legislative authority
to that of an insignificant fraction of a great people. But if
the former system would have invested them with an excessive authority, the latter would have annulled their influence
altogether. Under these circumstances the result was, that
the strict rules of logic were evaded, as is usually the case
when interests are opposed to arguments. A middle course
was hit upon by the legislators, which brought together by
force two systems theoretically irreconcilable.
The principle of the independence of the States prevailed
in the formation of the Senate, and that of the sovereignty of
the nation predominated in the composition of the House
of Representatives. It was decided that each State should send
two senators to Congress, and a number of representatives
proportioned to its population.* It results from this arrange*Every ten years Congress fixes anew the number of representatives which each State is to furnish. The total number was 69 in
1789, and 240 in 1833. (See American Almanac, 1834, p. 194.)
The Constitution decided that there should not be more than one
representative for every 30,000 persons; but no minimum was
fixed on. The Congress has not thought fit to augment the number of representatives in proportion to the increase of population.
The first Act which was passed on the subject (April 14, 1792: see
Laws of the United States, by Story, vol. i. p. 235) decided that
there should be one representative for every 33,000 inhabitants.
The last Act, which was passed in 1832, fixes the proportion at
one for 48,000. The population represented is composed of all
the free men and of three-fifths of the slaves.

ment that the State of New York has at the present day forty
representatives and only two senators; the State of Delaware
has two senators and only one representative; the State of
Delaware is therefore equal to the State of New York in the
Senate, whilst the latter has forty times the influence of the
former in the House of Representatives. Thus, if the minority of the nation preponderates in the Senate,. it may paralyze the decisions of the majority represented in the other
House, which is contrary to the spirit of constitutional government.
These facts show how rare and how difficult it is rationally
and logically to combine all the several parts of legislation.
In the course of time different interests arise, and different
principles are sanctioned by the same people; and when a
general constitution is to be established, these interests and
principles are so many natural obstacles to the rigorous apThe last Act of apportionment, passed February 2, 1872,
fixes the representation at one to 134,684 inhabitants. There
are now (1875) 283 members of the lower House of Congress, and 9 for the States at large, making in all 292 members. The old States have of course lost the representatives
which the new States have gained. Translators Note.

Democracy in America
plication of any political system, with all its consequences.
The early stages of national existence are the only periods at
which it is possible to maintain the complete logic of legislation; and when we perceive a nation in the enjoyment of this
advantage, before we hasten to conclude that it is wise, we
should do well to remember that it is young. When the Federal Constitution was formed, the interests of independence
for the separate States, and the interest of union for the whole
people, were the only two conflicting interests which existed
amongst the Anglo-Americans, and a compromise was necessarily made between them.
It is, however, just to acknowledge that this part of the
Constitution has not hitherto produced those evils which
might have been feared. All the States are young and contiguous; their customs, their ideas, and their exigencies are
not dissimilar; and the differences which result from their
size or inferiority do not suffice to set their interests at variance. The small States have consequently never been induced
to league themselves together in the Senate to oppose the
designs of the larger ones; and indeed there is so irresistible
an authority in the legitimate expression of the will of a people

that the Senate could offer but a feeble opposition to the

vote of the majority of the House of Representatives.
It must not be forgotten, on the other hand, that it was
not in the power of the American legislators to reduce to a
single nation the people for whom they were making laws.
The object of the Federal Constitution was not to destroy
the independence of the States, but to restrain it. By acknowledging the real authority of these secondary communities
(and it was impossible to deprive them of it), they disavowed
beforehand the habitual use of constraint in enforcing g the
decisions of the majority. Upon this principle the introduction of the influence of the States into the mechanism of the
Federal Government was by no means to be wondered at,
since it only attested the existence of an acknowledged power,
which was to be humored and not forcibly checked.


A Further Difference between the Senate and the House
of Representatives
The Senate named by the provincial legislators, the Representatives by the people Double election of the former;
single election of the latter Term of the different offices
Peculiar functions of each House.
The Senate not only differs from the other House in the
principle which it represents, but also in the mode of its election, in the term for which it is chosen, and in the nature of
its functions. The House of Representatives is named by the
people, the Senate by the legislators of each State; the former
is directly elected, the latter is elected by an elected body; the
term for which the representatives are chosen is only two
years, that of the senators is six. The functions of the House
of Representatives are purely legislative, and the only share it
takes in the judicial power is in the impeachment of public
officers. The Senate co-operates in the work of legislation,
and tries those political offences which the House of Representatives submits to its decision. It also acts as the great

executive council of the nation; the treaties which are concluded by the President must be ratified by the Senate, and
the appointments he may make must be definitely approved
by the same body.*
The Executive Power**
Dependence of the President He is elective and responsible He is free to act in his own sphere under the inspection, but not under the direction, of the Senate His salary
fixed at his entry into office Suspensive veto.
The American legislators undertook a difficult task in attempting to create an executive power dependent on the
majority of the people, and nevertheless sufficiently strong
to act without restraint in its own sphere. It was indispensable to the maintenance of the republican form of govern*See The Federalist, Nos. 52-56, inclusive; Story, pp. 199314; Constitution of the United States, sects. 2 and 3.
**See The Federalist, Nos. 67-77; Constitution of the
United States, art. 2; Story, p. 315, pp. 615-780; Kents
Commentaries, p. 255.

Democracy in America
ment that the representative of the executive power should
be subject to the will of the nation.
The President is an elective magistrate. His honor, his property, his liberty, and his life are the securities which the people
has for the temperate use of his power. But in the exercise of
his authority he cannot be said to be perfectly independent;
the Senate takes cognizance of his relations with foreign powers, and of the distribution of public appointments, so that
he can neither be bribed nor can he employ the means of
corruption. The legislators of the Union acknowledged that
the executive power would be incompetent to fulfil its task
with dignity and utility, unless it enjoyed a greater degree of
stability and of strength than had been granted to it in the
separate States.
The President is chosen for four years, and he may be reelected; so that the chances of a prolonged administration
may inspire him with hopeful undertakings for the public
good, and with the means of carrying them into execution.
The President was made the sole representative of the executive power of the Union, and care was taken not to render
his decisions subordinate to the vote of a council a danger-

ous measure, which tends at the same time to clog the action
of the Government and to diminish its responsibility. The
Senate has the right of annulling g certain acts of the President; but it cannot compel him to take any steps, nor does it
participate in the exercise of the executive power.
The action of the legislature on the executive power may
be direct; and we have just shown that the Americans carefully obviated this influence; but it may, on the other hand,
be indirect. Public assemblies which have the power of depriving an officer of state of his salary encroach upon his
independence; and as they are free to make the laws, it is to
be feared lest they should gradually appropriate to themselves a portion of that authority which the Constitution
had vested in his hands. This dependence of the executive
power is one of the defects inherent in republican constitutions. The Americans have not been able to counteract the
tendency which legislative assemblies have to get possession
of the government, but they have rendered this propensity
less irresistible. The salary of the President is fixed, at the
time of his entering upon office, for the whole period of his
magistracy. The President is, moreover, provided with a sus140

pensive veto, which allows him to oppose the passing of such
laws as might destroy the portion of independence which
the Constitution awards him. The struggle between the President and the legislature must always be an unequal one, since
the latter is certain of bearing down all resistance by persevering in its plans; but the suspensive veto forces it at least to
reconsider the matter, and, if the motion be persisted in, it
must then be backed by a majority of two-thirds of the whole
house. The veto is, in fact, a sort of appeal to the people. The
executive power, which, without this security, might have
been secretly oppressed, adopts this means of pleading its
cause and stating its motives. But if the legislature is certain
of overpowering all resistance by persevering in its plans, I
reply, that in the constitutions of all nations, of whatever
kind they may be, a certain point exists at which the legislator is obliged to have recourse to the good sense and the
virtue of his fellow-citizens. This point is more prominent
and more discoverable in republics, whilst it is more remote
and more carefully concealed in monarchies, but it always
exists somewhere. There is no country in the world in which
everything can be provided for by the laws, or in which po-

litical institutions can prove a substitute for common sense

and public morality.
Differences between the Position of the President of the
United States and That of a Constitutional King of
Executive power in the Northern States as limited and as
partial as the supremacy which it represents Executive power
in France as universal as the supremacy it represents The
King a branch of the legislature The President the mere
executor of the law Other differences resulting from the
duration of the two powers The President checked in the
exercise of the executive authority The King independent
in its exercise Notwithstanding these discrepancies France
is more akin to a republic than the Union to a monarchy
Comparison of the number of public officers depending upon
the executive power in the two countries.
The executive power has so important an influence on the
destinies of nations that I am inclined to pause for an instant

Democracy in America
at this portion of my subject, in order more clearly to explain the part it sustains in America. In order to form an
accurate idea of the position of the President of the United
States, it may not be irrelevant to compare it to that of one
of the constitutional kings of Europe. In this comparison I
shall pay but little attention to the external signs of power,
which are more apt to deceive the eye of the observer than to
guide his researches. When a monarchy is being gradually
transformed into a republic, the executive power retains the
titles, the honors, the etiquette, and even the funds of royalty long after its authority has disappeared. The English,
after having cut off the head of one king and expelled another from his throne, were accustomed to accost the successor of those princes upon their knees. On the other hand,
when a republic falls under the sway of a single individual,
the demeanor of the sovereign is simple and unpretending,
as if his authority was not yet paramount. When the emperors exercised an unlimited control over the fortunes and the
lives of their fellow-citizens, it was customary to call them
Caesar in conversation, and they were in the habit of supping without formality at their friends houses. It is therefore

necessary to look below the surface.

The sovereignty of the United States is shared between the
Union and the States, whilst in France it is undivided and
compact: hence arises the first and the most notable difference which exists between the President of the United States
and the King of France. In the United States the executive
power is as limited and partial as the sovereignty of the Union
in whose name it acts; in France it is as universal as the authority of the State. The Americans have a federal and the
French a national Government.

Chapter VIII: The Federal Constitution Part II

This cause of inferiority results from the nature of things,
but it is not the only one; the second in importance is as
follows: Sovereignty may be defined to be the right of making laws: in France, the King really exercises a portion of the
sovereign power, since the laws have no weight till he has
given his assent to them; he is, moreover, the executor of all
they ordain. The President is also the executor of the laws,
but he does not really co-operate in their formation, since

the refusal of his assent does not annul them. He is therefore
merely to be considered as the agent of the sovereign power.
But not only does the King of France exercise a portion of
the sovereign power, he also contributes to the nomination
of the legislature, which exercises the other portion. He has
the privilege of appointing the members of one chamber,
and of dissolving the other at his pleasure; whereas the President of the United States has no share in the formation of
the legislative body, and cannot dissolve any part of it. The
King has the same right of bringing forward measures as the
Chambers; a right which the President does not possess. The
King is represented in each assembly by his ministers, who
explain his intentions, support his opinions, and maintain
the principles of the Government. The President and his
ministers are alike excluded from Congress; so that his influence and his opinions can only penetrate indirectly into that
great body. The King of France is therefore on an equal footing with the legislature, which can no more act without him
than he can without it. The President exercises an authority
inferior to, and depending upon, that of the legislature.
Even in the exercise of the executive power, properly so

called the point upon which his position seems to be most

analogous to that of the King of France the President labors under several causes of inferiority. The authority of the
King, in France, has, in the first place, the advantage of duration over that of the President, and durability is one of the
chief elements of strength; nothing is either loved or feared
but what is likely to endure. The President of the United
States is a magistrate elected for four years; the King, in
France, is an hereditary sovereign. In the exercise of the executive power the President of the United States is constantly
subject to a jealous scrutiny. He may make, but he cannot
conclude, a treaty; he may designate, but he cannot appoint,
a public officer.* The King of France is absolute within the
limits of his authority. The President of the United States is
responsible for his actions; but the person of the King is declared inviolable by the French Charter.**
*The Constitution had left it doubtful whether the President
was obliged to consult the Senate in the removal as well as in
the appointment of Federal officers. The Federalist (No. 77)
seemed to establish the affirmative; but in 1789 Congress formally decided that, as the President was responsible for his
actions, he ought not to be forced to employ agents who had
forfeited his esteem. See Kents Commentaries, vol. i. p. 289.
**This comparison applied to the Constitutional King of
France and to the powers he held under the Charter of 1830,
till the overthrow of the monarchy in 1848. Translators Note.

Democracy in America
Nevertheless, the supremacy of public opinion is no less
above the head of the one than of the other. This power is
less definite, less evident, and less sanctioned by the laws in
France than in America, but in fact it exists. In America, it
acts by elections and decrees; in France it proceeds by revolutions; but notwithstanding the different constitutions of
these two countries, public opinion is the predominant authority in both of them. The fundamental principle of legislation a principle essentially republican is the same in
both countries, although its consequences may be different,
and its results more or less extensive. Whence I am led to
conclude that France with its King is nearer akin to a republic than the Union with its President is to a monarchy.
In what I have been saying I have only touched upon the
main points of distinction; and if I could have entered into
details, the contrast would have been rendered still more striking. I have remarked that the authority of the President in
the United States is only exercised within the limits of a partial sovereignty, whilst that of the King in France is undivided. I might have gone on to show that the power of the
Kings government in France exceeds its natural limits, how-

ever extensive they may be, and penetrates in a thousand

different ways into the administration of private interests.
Amongst the examples of this influence may be quoted that
which results from the great number of public functionaries,
who all derive their appointments from the Government.
This number now exceeds all previous limits; it amounts to
138,000* nominations, each of which may be considered as
an element of power. The President of the United States has
not the exclusive right of making any public appointments,
and their whole number scarcely exceeds 12,000.**
*The sums annually paid by the State to these officers amount
to 200,000,000 fr. ($40,000,000).
**This number is extracted from the National Calendar
for 1833. The National Calendar is an American almanac
which contains the names of all the Federal officers. It results from this comparison that the King of France has eleven
times as many places at his disposal as the President, although
the population of France is not much more than double that
of the Union.
I have not the means of ascertaining the number of appointments now at the disposal of the President of the United
States, but his patronage and the abuse of it have largely
increased since 1833. Translators Note, 1875.

Accidental Causes Which May Increase the Influence of
the Executive Government
External security of the Union Army of six thousand men
Few ships The President has no opportunity of exercising his great prerogatives In the prerogatives he exercises
he is weak.
If the executive government is feebler in America than in
France, the cause is more attributable to the circumstances
than to the laws of the country.
It is chiefly in its foreign relations that the executive power
of a nation is called upon to exert its skill and its vigor. If the
existence of the Union were perpetually threatened, and if
its chief interests were in daily connection with those of other
powerful nations, the executive government would assume
an increased importance in proportion to the measures expected of it, and those which it would carry into effect. The
President of the United States is the commander-in-chief of
the army, but of an army composed of only six thousand
men; he commands the fleet, but the fleet reckons but few

sail; he conducts the foreign relations of the Union, but the

United States are a nation without neighbors. Separated from
the rest of the world by the ocean, and too weak as yet to
aim at the dominion of the seas, they have no enemies, and
their interests rarely come into contact with those of any
other nation of the globe.
The practical part of a Government must not be judged
by the theory of its constitution. The President of the United
States is in the possession of almost royal prerogatives, which
he has no opportunity of exercising; and those privileges
which he can at present use are very circumscribed. The laws
allow him to possess a degree of influence which circumstances do not permit him to employ.
On the other hand, the great strength of the royal prerogative in France arises from circumstances far more than from
the laws. There the executive government is constantly struggling against prodigious obstacles, and exerting all its energies to repress them; so that it increases by the extent of its
achievements, and by the importance of the events it controls, without modifying its constitution. If the laws had made
it as feeble and as circumscribed as it is in the Union, its

Democracy in America
influence would very soon become still more preponderant.
Why The President Of The United States Does Not Require The Majority Of The Two Houses In Order To Carry
On The Government It is an established axiom in Europe
that a constitutional King cannot persevere in a system of
government which is opposed by the two other branches of
the legislature. But several Presidents of the United States
have been known to lose the majority in the legislative body
without being obliged to abandon the supreme power, and
without inflicting a serious evil upon society. I have heard
this fact quoted as an instance of the independence and the
power of the executive government in America: a moments
reflection will convince us, on the contrary, that it is a proof
of its extreme weakness.
A King in Europe requires the support of the legislature to
enable him to perform the duties imposed upon him by the
Constitution, because those duties are enormous. A constitutional King in Europe is not merely the executor of the
law, but the execution of its provisions devolves so completely
upon him that he has the power of paralyzing its influence if
it opposes his designs. He requires the assistance of the legis-

lative assemblies to make the law, but those assemblies stand

in need of his aid to execute it: these two authorities cannot
subsist without each other, and the mechanism of government is stopped as soon as they are at variance.
In America the President cannot prevent any law from
being passed, nor can he evade the obligation of enforcing
it. His sincere and zealous co-operation is no doubt useful,
but it is not indispensable, in the carrying on of public affairs. All his important acts are directly or indirectly submitted to the legislature, and of his own free authority he can do
but little. It is therefore his weakness, and not his power,
which enables him to remain in opposition to Congress. In
Europe, harmony must reign between the Crown and the
other branches of the legislature, because a collision between
them may prove serious; in America, this harmony is not
indispensable, because such a collision is impossible.


Election of the President
Dangers of the elective system increase in proportion to the
extent of the prerogative This system possible in America
because no powerful executive authority is required What
circumstances are favorable to the elective system Why the
election of the President does not cause a deviation from the
principles of the Government Influence of the election of
the President on secondary functionaries.
The dangers of the system of election applied to the head of
the executive government of a great people have been sufficiently exemplified by experience and by history, and the
remarks I am about to make refer to America alone. These
dangers may be more or less formidable in proportion to the
place which the executive power occupies, and to the importance it possesses in the State; and they may vary according
to the mode of election and the circumstances in which the
electors are placed. The most weighty argument against the
election of a chief magistrate is, that it offers so splendid a
lure to private ambition, and is so apt to inflame men in the

pursuit of power, that when legitimate means are wanting

force may not unfrequently seize what right denied.
It is clear that the greater the privileges of the executive
authority are, the greater is the temptation; the more the
ambition of the candidates is excited, the more warmly are
their interests espoused by a throng of partisans who hope to
share the power when their patron has won the prize. The
dangers of the elective system increase, therefore, in the exact ratio of the influence exercised by the executive power in
the affairs of State. The revolutions of Poland were not solely
attributable to the elective system in general, but to the fact
that the elected monarch was the sovereign of a powerful
kingdom. Before we can discuss the absolute advantages of
the elective system we must make preliminary inquiries as to
whether the geographical position, the laws, the habits, the
manners, and the opinions of the people amongst whom it
is to be introduced will admit of the establishment of a weak
and dependent executive government; for to attempt to render the representative of the State a powerful sovereign, and
at the same time elective, is, in my opinion, to entertain two
incompatible designs. To reduce hereditary royalty to the

Democracy in America
condition of an elective authority, the only means that I am
acquainted with are to circumscribe its sphere of action beforehand, gradually to diminish its prerogatives, and to accustom the people to live without its protection. Nothing, however, is further from the designs of the republicans of Europe
than this course: as many of them owe their hatred of tyranny
to the sufferings which they have personally undergone, it is
oppression, and not the extent of the executive power, which
excites their hostility, and they attack the former without perceiving how nearly it is connected with the latter.
Hitherto no citizen has shown any disposition to expose
his honor and his life in order to become the President of the
United States; because the power of that office is temporary,
limited, and subordinate. The prize of fortune must be great
to encourage adventurers in so desperate a game. No candidate has as yet been able to arouse the dangerous enthusiasm
or the passionate sympathies of the people in his favor, for
the very simple reason that when he is at the head of the
Government he has but little power, but little wealth, and
but little glory to share amongst his friends; and his influence in the State is too small for the success or the ruin of a

faction to depend upon the elevation of an individual to

The great advantage of hereditary monarchies is, that as
the private interest of a family is always intimately connected
with the interests of the State, the executive government is
never suspended for a single instant; and if the affairs of a
monarchy are not better conducted than those of a republic,
at least there is always some one to conduct them, well or ill,
according to his capacity. In elective States, on the contrary,
the wheels of government cease to act, as it were, of their
own accord at the approach of an election, and even for some
time previous to that event. The laws may indeed accelerate
the operation of the election, which may be conducted with
such simplicity and rapidity that the seat of power will never
be left vacant; but, notwithstanding these precautions, a break
necessarily occurs in the minds of the people.
At the approach of an election the head of the executive
government is wholly occupied by the coming struggle; his
future plans are doubtful; he can undertake nothing new,
and the he will only prosecute with indifference those designs which another will perhaps terminate. I am so near

the time of my retirement from office, said President
Jefferson on the 21st of January, 1809 (six weeks before the
election), that I feel no passion, I take no part, I express no
sentiment. It appears to me just to leave to my successor the
commencement of those measures which he will have to prosecute, and for which he will be responsible.
On the other hand, the eyes of the nation are centred on a
single point; all are watching the gradual birth of so important an event. The wider the influence of the executive power
extends, the greater and the more necessary is its constant
action, the more fatal is the term of suspense; and a nation
which is accustomed to the government, or, still more, one
used to the administrative protection of a powerful executive authority would be infallibly convulsed by an election
of this kind. In the United States the action of the Government may be slackened with impunity, because it is always
weak and circumscribed.*
*This, however, may be a great danger. The period during
which Mr. Buchanan retained office, after the election of
Mr. Lincoln, from November, 1860, to March, 1861, was
that which enabled the seceding States of the South to complete their preparations for the Civil War, and the Executive
Government was paralyzed. No greater evil could befall a
nation. -Translators Note.

One of the principal vices of the elective system is that it

always introduces a certain degree of instability into the internal and external policy of the State. But this disadvantage
is less sensibly felt if the share of power vested in the elected
magistrate is small. In Rome the principles of the Government underwent no variation, although the Consuls were
changed every year, because the Senate, which was an hereditary assembly, possessed the directing authority. If the
elective system were adopted in Europe, the condition of
most of the monarchical States would be changed at every
new election. In America the President exercises a certain
influence on State affairs, but he does not conduct them; the
preponderating power is vested in the representatives of the
whole nation. The political maxims of the country depend
therefore on the mass of the people, not on the President
alone; and consequently in America the elective system has
no very prejudicial influence on the fixed principles of the
Government. But the want of fixed principles is an evil so
inherent in the elective system that it is still extremely perceptible in the narrow sphere to which the authority of the
President extends.

Democracy in America
The Americans have admitted that the head of the executive power, who has to bear the whole responsibility of the
duties he is called upon to fulfil, ought to be empowered to
choose his own agents, and to remove them at pleasure: the
legislative bodies watch the conduct of the President more
than they direct it. The consequence of this arrangement is,
that at every new election the fate of all the Federal public
officers is in suspense. Mr. Quincy Adams, on his entry into
office, discharged the majority of the individuals who had
been appointed by his predecessor: and I am not aware that
General Jackson allowed a single removable functionary employed in the Federal service to retain his place beyond the
first year which succeeded his election. It is sometimes made
a subject of complaint that in the constitutional monarchies
of Europe the fate of the humbler servants of an Administration depends upon that of the Ministers. But in elective Governments this evil is far greater. In a constitutional monarchy successive ministries are rapidly formed; but as the principal representative of the executive power does not change,
the spirit of innovation is kept within bounds; the changes
which take place are in the details rather than in the prin-

ciples of the administrative system; but to substitute one system for another, as is done in America every four years, by
law, is to cause a sort of revolution. As to the misfortunes
which may fall upon individuals in consequence of this state
of things, it must be allowed that the uncertain situation of
the public officers is less fraught with evil consequences in
America than elsewhere. It is so easy to acquire an independent position in the United States that the public officer who
loses his place may be deprived of the comforts of life, but
not of the means of subsistence.
I remarked at the beginning of this chapter that the dangers of the elective system applied to the head of the State
are augmented or decreased by the peculiar circumstances of
the people which adopts it. However the functions of the
executive power may be restricted, it must always exercise a
great influence upon the foreign policy of the country, for a
negotiation cannot be opened or successfully carried on otherwise than by a single agent. The more precarious and the
more perilous the position of a people becomes, the more
absolute is the want of a fixed and consistent external policy,
and the more dangerous does the elective system of the Chief

Magistrate become. The policy of the Americans in relation
to the whole world is exceedingly simple; for it may almost
be said that no country stands in need of them, nor do they
require the co-operation of any other people. Their independence is never threatened. In their present condition,
therefore, the functions of the executive power are no less
limited by circumstances than by the laws; and the President
may frequently change his line of policy without involving
the State in difficulty or destruction.
Whatever the prerogatives of the executive power may be,
the period which immediately precedes an election and the
moment of its duration must always be considered as a national crisis, which is perilous in proportion to the internal
embarrassments and the external dangers of the country. Few
of the nations of Europe could escape the calamities of anarchy or of conquest every time they might have to elect a new
sovereign. In America society is so constituted that it can
stand without assistance upon its own basis; nothing is to be
feared from the pressure of external dangers, and the election of the President is a cause of agitation, but not of ruin.

Mode Of Election
Skill of the American legislators shown in the mode of election adopted by them Creation of a special electoral body
Separate votes of these electors Case in which the House
of Representatives is called upon to choose the President
Results of the twelve elections which have taken place since
the Constitution has been established.
Besides the dangers which are inherent in the system, many
other difficulties may arise from the mode of election, which
may be obviated by the precaution of the legislator. When a
people met in arms on some public spot to choose its head,
it was exposed to all the chances of civil war resulting from
so martial a mode of proceeding, besides the dangers of the
elective system in itself. The Polish laws, which subjected
the election of the sovereign to the veto of a single individual,
suggested the murder of that individual or prepared the way
to anarchy.
In the examination of the institutions and the political as
well as social condition of the United States, we are struck

Democracy in America
by the admirable harmony of the gifts of fortune and the
efforts of man. The nation possessed two of the main causes
of internal peace; it was a new country, but it was inhabited
by a people grown old in the exercise of freedom. America
had no hostile neighbors to dread; and the American legislators, profiting by these favorable circumstances, created a
weak and subordinate executive power which could without
danger be made elective.
It then only remained for them to choose the least dangerous of the various modes of election; and the rules which
they laid down upon this point admirably correspond to the
securities which the physical and political constitution of
the country already afforded. Their object was to find the
mode of election which would best express the choice of the
people with the least possible excitement and suspense. It
was admitted in the first place that the simple majority should
be decisive; but the difficulty was to obtain this majority
without an interval of delay which it was most important to
avoid. It rarely happens that an individual can at once collect the majority of the suffrages of a great people; and this
difficulty is enhanced in a republic of confederate States,

where local influences are apt to preponderate. The means

by which it was proposed to obviate this second obstacle was
to delegate the electoral powers of the nation to a body of
representatives. This mode of election rendered a majority
more probable; for the fewer the electors are, the greater is
the chance of their coming to a final decision. It also offered
an additional probability of a judicious choice. It then remained to be decided whether this right of election was to
be entrusted to a legislative body, the habitual representative
assembly of the nation, or whether an electoral assembly
should be formed for the express purpose of proceeding to
the nomination of a President. The Americans chose the latter alternative, from a belief that the individuals who were
returned to make the laws were incompetent to represent
the wishes of the nation in the election of its chief magistrate; and that, as they are chosen for more than a year, the
constituency they represent might have changed its opinion
in that time. It was thought that if the legislature was empowered to elect the head of the executive power, its members would, for some time before the election, be exposed to
the manoeuvres of corruption and the tricks of intrigue;

whereas the special electors would, like a jury, remain mixed
up with the crowd till the day of action, when they would
appear for the sole purpose of giving their votes.
It was therefore established that every State should name a
certain number of electors,* who in their turn should elect
the President; and as it had been observed that the assemblies to which the choice of a chief magistrate had been entrusted in elective countries inevitably became the centres of
passion and of cabal; that they sometimes usurped an authority which did not belong to them; and that their proceedings, or the uncertainty which resulted from them, were
sometimes prolonged so much as to endanger the welfare of
the State, it was determined that the electors should all vote
upon the same day, without being convoked to the same
place.** This double election rendered a majority probable,
though not certain; for it was possible that as many differences might exist between the electors as between their con*As many as it sends members to Congress. The number of
electors at the election of 1833 was 288. (See The National
Calendar, 1833.)
**The electors of the same State assemble, but they transmit
to the central government the list of their individual votes,
and not the mere result of the vote of the majority.

stituents. In this case it was necessary to have recourse to one

of three measures; either to appoint new electors, or to consult a second time those already appointed,or to defer the
election to another authority. The first two of these alternatives, independently of the uncertainty of their results, were
likely to delay the final decision, and to perpetuate an agitation which must always be accompanied with danger. The
third expedient was therefore adopted, and it was agreed that
the votes should be transmitted sealed to the President of
the Senate, and that they should be opened and counted in
the presence of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
If none of the candidates has a majority, the House of Representatives then proceeds immediately to elect a President,
but with the condition that it must fix upon one of the three
candidates who have the highest numbers.*
*In this case it is the majority of the States, and not the majority of the members, which decides the question; so that
New York has not more influence in the debate than Rhode
Island. Thus the citizens of the Union are first consulted as
members of one and the same community; and, if they cannot agree, recourse is had to the division of the States, each
of which has a separate and independent vote. This is one of
the singularities of the Federal Constitution which can only
be explained by the jar of conflicting interests.

Democracy in America
Thus it is only in case of an event which cannot often
happen, and which can never be foreseen, that the election
is entrusted to the ordinary representatives of the nation;
and even then they are obliged to choose a citizen who has
already been designated by a powerful minority of the special electors. It is by this happy expedient that the respect
which is due to the popular voice is combined with the utmost celerity of execution and those precautions which the
peace of the country demands. But the decision of the question by the House of Representatives does not necessarily
offer an immediate solution of the difficulty, for the majority of that assembly may still be doubtful, and in this case
the Constitution prescribes no remedy. Nevertheless, by restricting the number of candidates to three, and by referring
the matter to the judgment of an enlightened public body, it
has smoothed all the obstacles* which are not inherent in
the elective system.
In the forty-four years which have elapsed since the promulgation of the Federal Constitution the United States have
twelve times chosen a President. Ten of these elections took

place simultaneously by the votes of the special electors in

the different States. The House of Representatives has only
twice exercised its conditional privilege of deciding in cases
of uncertainty; the first time was at the election of Mr.
Jefferson in 1801; the second was in 1825, when Mr. Quincy
Adams was named.*

*Jefferson, in 1801, was not elected until the thirty- sixth

time of balloting.

*General Grant is now (1874) the eighteenth President of

the United States.

Crises Of The Election

The Election may be considered as a national crisis Why?
Passions of the people Anxiety of the President Calm
which succeeds the agitation of the election.
I have shown what the circumstances are which favored the
adoption of the elective system in the United States, and
what precautions were taken by the legislators to obviate its
dangers. The Americans are habitually accustomed to all kinds
of elections, and they know by experience the utmost degree
of excitement which is compatible with security. The vast
extent of the country and the dissemination of the inhabit-

ants render a collision between parties less probable and less
dangerous there than elsewhere. The political circumstances
under which the elections have hitherto been carried on have
presented no real embarrassments to the nation.
Nevertheless, the epoch of the election of a President of
the United States may be considered as a crisis in the affairs
of the nation. The influence which he exercises on public
business is no doubt feeble and indirect; but the choice of
the President, which is of small importance to each individual citizen, concerns the citizens collectively; and however trifling an interest may be, it assumes a great degree of
importance as soon as it becomes general. The President
possesses but few means of rewarding his supporters in comparison to the kings of Europe, but the places which are at
his disposal are sufficiently numerous to interest, directly or
indirectly, several thousand electors in his success. Political
parties in the United States are led to rally round an individual, in order to acquire a more tangible shape in the eyes
of the crowd, and the name of the candidate for the Presidency is put forward as the symbol and personification of
their theories. For these reasons parties are strongly inter-

ested in gaining the election, not so much with a view to the

triumph of their principles under the auspices of the President-elect as to show by the majority which returned him,
the strength of the supporters of those principles.
For a long while before the appointed time is at hand the
election becomes the most important and the all-engrossing
topic of discussion. The ardor of faction is redoubled; and
all the artificial passions which the imagination can create in
the bosom of a happy and peaceful land are agitated and
brought to light. The President, on the other hand, is absorbed by the cares of self- defence. He no longer governs
for the interest of the State, but for that of his re-election; he
does homage to the majority, and instead of checking its
passions, as his duty commands him to do, he frequently
courts its worst caprices. As the election draws near, the activity of intrigue and the agitation of the populace increase;
the citizens are divided into hostile camps, each of which
assumes the name of its favorite candidate; the whole nation
glows with feverish excitement; the election is the daily theme
of the public papers, the subject of private conversation, the
end of every thought and every action, the sole interest of

Democracy in America
the present. As soon as the choice is determined, this ardor is
dispelled; and as a calmer season returns, the current of the
State, which had nearly broken its banks, sinks to its usual
level:* but who can refrain from astonishment at the causes
of the storm.

Chapter VIII: The Federal Constitution Part III

Re-election Of The President
When the head of the executive power is re-eligible, it is the
State which is the source of intrigue and corruption The
desire of being re-elected the chief aim of a President of the
United States Disadvantage of the system peculiar to
America The natural evil of democracy is that it subordinates all authority to the slightest desires of the majority
The re-election of the President encourages this evil.
It may be asked whether the legislators of the United States
did right or wrong in allowing the re-election of the Presi*Not always. The election of President Lincoln was the signal of civil war. Translators Note.

dent. It seems at first sight contrary to all reason to prevent

the head of the executive power from being elected a second
time. The influence which the talents and the character of a
single individual may exercise upon the fate of a whole people,
in critical circumstances or arduous times, is well known: a
law preventing the re-election of the chief magistrate would
deprive the citizens of the surest pledge of the prosperity and
the security of the commonwealth; and, by a singular inconsistency, a man would be excluded from the government at
the very time when he had shown his ability in conducting
its affairs.
But if these arguments are strong, perhaps still more powerful reasons may be advanced against them. Intrigue and
corruption are the natural defects of elective government;
but when the head of the State can be re-elected these evils
rise to a great height, and compromise the very existence of
the country. When a simple candidate seeks to rise by intrigue, his manoeuvres must necessarily be limited to a narrow sphere; but when the chief magistrate enters the lists, he
borrows the strength of the government for his own purposes. In the former case the feeble resources of an individual

are in action; in the latter, the State itself, with all its immense
influence, is busied in the work of corruption and cabal. The
private citizen, who employs the most immoral practices to
acquire power, can only act in a manner indirectly prejudicial
to the public prosperity. But if the representative of the executive descends into the combat, the cares of government dwindle
into second-rate importance, and the success of his election is
his first concern. All laws and all the negotiations he undertakes are to him nothing more than electioneering schemes;
places become the reward of services rendered, not to the nation, but to its chief; and the influence of the government, if
not injurious to the country, is at least no longer beneficial to
the community for which it was created.
It is impossible to consider the ordinary course of affairs in
the United States without perceiving that the desire of being
re- elected is the chief aim of the President; that his whole
administration, and even his most indifferent measures, tend
to this object; and that, as the crisis approaches, his personal
interest takes the place of his interest in the public good.
The principle of re-eligibility renders the corrupt influence
of elective government still more extensive and pernicious.

In America it exercises a peculiarly fatal influence on the

sources of national existence. Every government seems to be
afflicted by some evil which is inherent in its nature, and the
genius of the legislator is shown in eluding its attacks. A State
may survive the influence of a host of bad laws, and the mischief they cause is frequently exaggerated; but a law which
encourages the growth of the canker within must prove fatal
in the end, although its bad consequences may not be immediately perceived.
The principle of destruction in absolute monarchies lies
in the excessive and unreasonable extension of the prerogative of the crown; and a measure tending to remove the constitutional provisions which counterbalance this influence
would be radically bad, even if its immediate consequences
were unattended with evil. By a parity of reasoning, in countries governed by a democracy, where the people is perpetually drawing all authority to itself, the laws which increase or
accelerate its action are the direct assailants of the very principle of the government.
The greatest proof of the ability of the American legislators is, that they clearly discerned this truth, and that they

Democracy in America
had the courage to act up to it. They conceived that a certain
authority above the body of the people was necessary, which
should enjoy a degree of independence, without, however,
being entirely beyond the popular control; an authority which
would be forced to comply with the permanent determinations of the majority, but which would be able to resist its
caprices, and to refuse its most dangerous demands. To this
end they centred the whole executive power of the nation in
a single arm; they granted extensive prerogatives to the President, and they armed him with the veto to resist the encroachments of the legislature.
But by introducing the principle of re-election they partly
destroyed their work; and they rendered the President but
little inclined to exert the great power they had vested in his
hands. If ineligible a second time, the President would be far
from independent of the people, for his responsibility would
not be lessened; but the favor of the people would not be so
necessary to him as to induce him to court it by humoring
its desires. If re- eligible (and this is more especially true at
the present day, when political morality is relaxed, and when
great men are rare), the President of the United States be-

comes an easy tool in the hands of the majority. He adopts

its likings and its animosities, he hastens to anticipate its
wishes, he forestalls its complaints, he yields to its idlest
cravings, and instead of guiding it, as the legislature intended
that he should do, he is ever ready to follow its bidding.
Thus, in order not to deprive the State of the talents of an
individual, those talents have been rendered almost useless;
and to reserve an expedient for extraordinary perils, the country has been exposed to daily dangers.


Federal Courts*
Political importance of the judiciary in the United States Difficulty of treating this subject Utility of judicial power
in confederations What tribunals could be introduced into
the Union Necessity of establishing federal courts of justice Organization of the national judiciary The Supreme
Court In what it differs from all known tribunals.
I have inquired into the legislative and executive power of
the Union, and the judicial power now remains to be examined; but in this place I cannot conceal my fears from the
reader. Their judicial institutions exercise a great influence
*See chap. VI, entitled Judicial Power in the United States.
This chapter explains the general principles of the American
theory of judicial institutions. See also the Federal Constitution, Art. 3. See The Federalists, Nos. 78-83, inclusive;
and a work entitled Constitutional Law, being a view of
the practice and jurisdiction of the courts of the United States,
by Thomas Sergeant. See Story, pp. 134, 162, 489, 511, 581,
668; and the organic law of September 24, 1789, in the
Collection of the Laws of the United States, by Story, vol.
i. p. 53.

on the condition of the Anglo-Americans, and they occupy a

prominent place amongst what are probably called political
institutions: in this respect they are peculiarly deserving of our
attention. But I am at a loss to explain the political action of
the American tribunals without entering into some technical
details of their constitution and their forms of proceeding;
and I know not how to descend to these minutiae without
wearying the curiosity of the reader by the natural aridity of
the subject, or without risking to fall into obscurity through a
desire to be succinct. I can scarcely hope to escape these various evils; for if I appear too lengthy to a man of the world, a
lawyer may on the other hand complain of my brevity. But
these are the natural disadvantages of my subject, and more
especially of the point which I am about to discuss.
The great difficulty was, not to devise the Constitution to
the Federal Government, but to find out a method of enforcing its laws. Governments have in general but two means
of overcoming the opposition of the people they govern, viz.,
the physical force which is at their own disposal, and the
moral force which they derive from the decisions of the courts
of justice.

Democracy in America
A government which should have no other means of exacting obedience than open war must be very near its ruin,
for one of two alternatives would then probably occur: if its
authority was small and its character temperate, it would
not resort to violence till the last extremity, and it would
connive at a number of partial acts of insubordination, in
which case the State would gradually fall into anarchy; if it
was enterprising and powerful, it would perpetually have
recourse to its physical strength, and would speedily degenerate into a military despotism. So that its activity would not
be less prejudicial to the community than its inaction.
The great end of justice is to substitute the notion of right
for that of violence, and to place a legal barrier between the
power of the government and the use of physical force. The
authority which is awarded to the intervention of a court of
justice by the general opinion of mankind is so surprisingly
great that it clings to the mere formalities of justice, and
gives a bodily influence to the shadow of the law. The moral
force which courts of justice possess renders the introduction of physical force exceedingly rare, and is very frequently
substituted for it; but if the latter proves to be indispensable,

its power is doubled by the association of the idea of law.

A federal government stands in greater need of the support of judicial institutions than any other, because it is naturally weak and exposed to formidable opposition.* If it were
always obliged to resort to violence in the first instance, it
could not fulfil its task. The Union, therefore, required a
national judiciary to enforce the obedience of the citizens to
the laws, and to repeal the attacks which might be directed
against them. The question then remained as to what tribunals were to exercise these privileges; were they to be entrusted to the courts of justice which were already organized
in every State? or was it necessary to create federal courts? It
may easily be proved that the Union could not adapt the
judicial power of the States to its wants. The separation of
the judiciary from the administrative power of the State no
*Federal laws are those which most require courts of justice,
and those at the same time which have most rarely established them. The reason is that confederations have usually
been formed by independent States, which entertained no
real intention of obeying the central Government, and which
very readily ceded the right of command to the federal executive, and very prudently reserved the right of non-compliance to themselves.

doubt affects the security of every citizen and the liberty of
all. But it is no less important to the existence of the nation
that these several powers should have the same origin, should
follow the same principles, and act in the same sphere; in a
word, that they should be correlative and homogeneous. No
one, I presume, ever suggested the advantage of trying offences committed in France by a foreign court of justice, in
order to secure the impartiality of the judges. The Americans form one people in relation to their Federal Government; but in the bosom of this people divers political bodies
have been allowed to subsist which are dependent on the
national Government in a few points, and independent in
all the rest; which have all a distinct origin, maxims peculiar
to themselves, and special means of carrying on their affairs.
To entrust the execution of the laws of the Union to tribunals instituted by these political bodies would be to allow
foreign judges to preside over the nation. Nay, more; not
only is each State foreign to the Union at large, but it is in
perpetual opposition to the common interests, since whatever authority the Union loses turns to the advantage of the
States. Thus to enforce the laws of the Union by means of

the tribunals of the States would be to allow not only foreign

but partial judges to preside over the nation.
But the number, still more than the mere character, of the
tribunals of the States rendered them unfit for the service of
the nation. When the Federal Constitution was formed there
were already thirteen courts of justice in the United States
which decided causes without appeal. That number is now
increased to twenty-four. To suppose that a State can subsist
when its fundamental laws may be subjected to four-andtwenty different interpretations at the same time is to advance
a proposition alike contrary to reason and to experience.
The American legislators therefore agreed to create a federal judiciary power to apply the laws of the Union, and to
determine certain questions affecting general interests, which
were carefully determined beforehand. The entire judicial
power of the Union was centred in one tribunal, which was
denominated the Supreme Court of the United States. But,
to facilitate the expedition of business, inferior courts were
appended to it, which were empowered to decide causes of
small importance without appeal, and with appeal causes of
more magnitude. The members of the Supreme Court are

Democracy in America
named neither by the people nor the legislature, but by the
President of the United States, acting with the advice of the
Senate. In order to render them independent of the other
authorities, their office was made inalienable; and it was determined that their salary, when once fixed, should not be
altered by the legislature.* It was easy to proclaim the principle of a Federal judiciary, but difficulties multiplied when
the extent of its jurisdiction was to be determined.
*The Union was divided into districts, in each of which a resident
Federal judge was appointed, and the court in which he presided
was termed a District Court. Each of the judges of the Supreme
Court annually visits a certain portion of the Republic, in order to
try the most important causes upon the spot; the court presided
over by this magistrate is styled a Circuit Court. Lastly, all the
most serious cases of litigation are brought before the Supreme
Court, which holds a solemn session once a year, at which all the
judges of the Circuit Courts must attend. The jury was introduced into the Federal Courts in the same manner, and in the
same cases, as into the courts of the States.
It will be observed that no analogy exists between the Supreme
Court of the United States and the French Cour de Cassation,
since the latter only hears appeals on questions of law. The Supreme Court decides upon the evidence of the fact as well as upon
the law of the case, whereas the Cour de Cassation does not pronounce a decision of its own, but refers the cause to the arbitration of another tribunal. See the law of September 24, 1789, Laws
of the United States, by Story, vol. i. p. 53.]

Means Of Determining The Jurisdiction Of The Federal

Courts Difficulty of determining the jurisdiction of separate
courts of justice in confederations The courts of the Union
obtained the right of fixing their own jurisdiction In what
respect this rule attacks the portion of sovereignty reserved
to the several States The sovereignty of these States restricted by the laws, and the interpretation of the laws Consequently, the danger of the several States is more apparent
than real.
As the Constitution of the United States recognized two distinct powers in presence of each other, represented in a judicial point of view by two distinct classes of courts of justice,
the utmost care which could be taken in defining their separate jurisdictions would have been insufficient to prevent frequent collisions between those tribunals. The question then
arose to whom the right of deciding the competency of each
court was to be referred.
In nations which constitute a single body politic, when a
question is debated between two courts relating to their
mutual jurisdiction, a third tribunal is generally within reach

to decide the difference; and this is effected without difficulty, because in these nations the questions of judicial competency have no connection with the privileges of the national supremacy. But it was impossible to create an arbiter
between a superior court of the Union and the superior court
of a separate State which would not belong to one of these
two classes. It was, therefore, necessary to allow one of these
courts to judge its own cause, and to take or to retain cognizance of the point which was contested. To grant this privilege to the different courts of the States would have been to
destroy the sovereignty of the Union de facto after having
established it de jure; for the interpretation of the Constitution would soon have restored that portion of independence
to the States of which the terms of that act deprived them.
The object of the creation of a Federal tribunal was to prevent the courts of the States from deciding questions affecting the national interests in their own department, and so to
form a uniform body of jurisprudene for the interpretation
of the laws of the Union. This end would not have been
accomplished if the courts of the several States had been competent to decide upon cases in their separate capacities from

which they were obliged to abstain as Federal tribunals. The

Supreme Court of the United States was therefore invested
with the right of determining all questions of jurisdiction.*
This was a severe blow upon the independence of the States,
which was thus restricted not only by the laws, but by the
interpretation of them; by one limit which was known, and
by another which was dubious; by a rule which was certain,
and a rule which was arbitrary. It is true the Constitution
had laid down the precise limits of the Federal supremacy,
but whenever this supremacy is contested by one of the States,
a Federal tribunal decides the question. Nevertheless, the
dangers with which the independence of the States was threatened by this mode of proceeding are less serious than they
*In order to diminish the number of these suits, it was decided that in a great many Federal causes the courts of the
States should be empowered to decide conjointly with those
of the Union, the losing party having then a right of appeal
to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme
Court of Virginia contested the right of the Supreme Court
of the United States to judge an appeal from its decisions,
but unsuccessfully. See Kents Commentaries, vol. i. p. 300,
pp. 370 et seq.; Storys Commentaries, p. 646; and The
Organic Law of the United States, vol. i. p. 35.

Democracy in America
appeared to be. We shall see hereafter that in America the
real strength of the country is vested in the provincial far
more than in the Federal Government. The Federal judges
are conscious of the relative weakness of the power in whose
name they act, and they are more inclined to abandon a right
of jurisdiction in cases where it is justly their own than to
assert a privilege to which they have no legal claim.
Different Cases Of Jurisdiction
The matter and the party are the first conditions of the Federal jurisdiction Suits in which ambassadors are engaged
Suits of the Union Of a separate State By whom tried
Causes resulting from the laws of the Union Why judged
by the Federal tribunals Causes relating to the performance
of contracts tried by the Federal courts Consequence of
this arrangement.
After having appointed the means of fixing the competency
of the Federal courts, the legislators of the Union defined
the cases which should come within their jurisdiction. It was

established, on the one hand, that certain parties must always be brought before the Federal courts, without any regard to the special nature of the cause; and, on the other,
that certain causes must always be brought before the same
courts, without any regard to the quality of the parties in the
suit. These distinctions were therefore admitted to be the
basis of the Federal jurisdiction.
Ambassadors are the representatives of nations in a state of
amity with the Union, and whatever concerns these personages concerns in some degree the whole Union. When an
ambassador is a party in a suit, that suit affects the welfare of
the nation, and a Federal tribunal is naturally called upon to
decide it.
The Union itself may be invoked in legal proceedings, and
in this case it would be alike contrary to the customs of all
nations and to common sense to appeal to a tribunal representing any other sovereignty than its own; the Federal courts,
therefore, take cognizance of these affairs.
When two parties belonging to two different States are
engaged in a suit, the case cannot with propriety be brought
before a court of either State. The surest expedient is to se164

lect a tribunal like that of the Union, which can excite the
suspicions of neither party, and which offers the most natural as well as the most certain remedy.
When the two parties are not private individuals, but States,
an important political consideration is added to the same
motive of equity. The quality of the parties in this case gives
a national importance to all their disputes; and the most trifling litigation of the States may be said to involve the peace
of the whole Union.*
The nature of the cause frequently prescribes the rule of
*The Constitution also says that the Federal courts shall decide controversies between a State and the citizens of another State. And here a most important question of a constitutional nature arose, which was, whether the jurisdiction
given by the Constitution in cases in which a State is a party
extended to suits brought against a State as well as by it, or
was exclusively confined to the latter. The question was most
elaborately considered in the case of Chisholm v. Georgia,
and was decided by the majority of the Supreme Court in
the affirmative. The decision created general alarm among
the States, and an amendment was proposed and ratified by
which the power was entirely taken away, so far as it regards
suits brought against a State. See Storys Commentaries, p.
624, or in the large edition Section 1677.

competency. Thus all the questions which concern maritime

commerce evidently fall under the cognizance of the Federal
tribunals.* Almost all these questions are connected with the
interpretation of the law of nations, and in this respect they
essentially interest the Union in relation to foreign powers.
Moreover, as the sea is not included within the limits of any
peculiar jurisdiction, the national courts can only hear causes
which originate in maritime affairs.
The Constitution comprises under one head almost all the
cases which by their very nature come within the limits of
the Federal courts. The rule which it lays down is simple,
but pregnant with an entire system of ideas, and with a vast
multitude of facts. It declares that the judicial power of the
Supreme Court shall extend to all cases in law and equity
arising under the laws of the United States.
Two examples will put the intention of the legislator in
the clearest light:
The Constitution prohibits the States from making laws
on the value and circulation of money: If, notwithstanding
this prohibition, a State passes a law of this kind, with which
the interested parties refuse to comply because it is contrary
*As for instance, all cases of piracy.

Democracy in America
to the Constitution, the case must come before a Federal
has the right of deciding by its own courts those questions
court, because it arises under the laws of the United States.
which concern the execution of its own laws. To this it is
Again, if difficulties arise in the levying of import duties which
answered that the Union is in so singular a position that in
have been voted by Congress, the Federal court must decide relation to some matters it constitutes a people, and that in
the case, because it arises under the interpretation of a law of
relation to all the rest it is a nonentity. But the inference to
the United States.
be drawn is, that in the laws relating to these matters the
This rule is in perfect accordance with the fundamental Union possesses all the rights of absolute sovereignty. The
principles of the Federal Constitution. The Union, as it was difficulty is to know what these matters are; and when once
established in 1789, possesses, it is true, a limited supremacy;
it is resolved (and we have shown how it was resolved, in
but it was intended that within its limits it should form one
speaking of the means of determining the jurisdiction of the
and the same people.* Within those limits the Union is sovFederal courts) no further doubt can arise; for as soon as it is
ereign. When this point is established and admitted, the inestablished that a suit is Federal that is to say, that it beference is easy; for if it be acknowledged that the United
longs to the share of sovereignty reserved by the ConstituStates constitute one and the same people within the bounds
tion of the Union the natural consequence is that it should
prescribed by their Constitution, it is impossible to refuse
come within the jurisdiction of a Federal court.
them the rights which belong to other nations. But it has
Whenever the laws of the United States are attacked, or
been allowed, from the origin of society, that every nation whenever they are resorted to in self-defence, the Federal
*This principle was in some measure restricted by the intro- courts must be appealed to. Thus the jurisdiction of the triduction of the several States as independent powers into the bunals of the Union extends and narrows its limits exactly in
Senate, and by allowing them to vote separately in the House
of Representatives when the President is elected by that body. the same ratio as the sovereignty of the Union augments or
But these are exceptions, and the contrary principle is the decreases. We have shown that the principal aim of the legisrule.

lators of 1789 was to divide the sovereign authority into two
parts. In the one they placed the control of all the general
interests of the Union, in the other the control of the special
interests of its component States. Their chief solicitude was
to arm the Federal Government with sufficient power to
enable it to resist, within its sphere, the encroachments of
the several States. As for these communities, the principle of
independence within certain limits of their own was adopted
in their behalf; and they were concealed from the inspection, and protected from the control, of the central Government. In speaking of the division of authority, I observed
that this latter principle had not always been held sacred,
since the States are prevented from passing certain laws which
apparently belong to their own particular sphere of interest.
When a State of the Union passes a law of this kind, the
citizens who are injured by its execution can appeal to the
Federal courts.
Thus the jurisdiction of the Federal courts extends not
only to all the cases which arise under the laws of the Union,
but also to those which arise under laws made by the several
States in opposition to the Constitution. The States are pro-

hibited from making ex post facto laws in criminal cases,

and any person condemned by virtue of a law of this kind
can appeal to the judicial power of the Union. The States are
likewise prohibited from making laws which may have a tendency to impair the obligations of contracts.* If a citizen
thinks that an obligation of this kind is impaired by a law
passed in his State, he may refuse to obey it, and may appeal
*It is perfectly clear, says Mr. Story (Commentaries, p. 503,
or in the large edition Section 1379), that any law which
enlarges, abridges, or in any manner changes the intention
of the parties, resulting from the stipulations in the contract,
necessarily impairs it. He gives in the same place a very long
and careful definition of what is understood by a contract in
Federal jurisprudence. A grant made by the State to a private
individual, and accepted by him, is a contract, and cannot
be revoked by any future law. A charter granted by the State
to a company is a contract, and equally binding to the State
as to the grantee. The clause of the Constitution here referred to insures, therefore, the existence of a great part of
acquired rights, but not of all. Property may legally be held,
though it may not have passed into the possessors hands by
means of a contract; and its possession is an acquired right,
not guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.

Democracy in America
to the Federal courts.*
*A remarkable instance of this is given by Mr. Story (p. 508, or in
the large edition Section 1388): Dartmouth College in New
Hampshire had been founded by a charter granted to certain individuals before the American Revolution, and its trustees formed
a corporation under this charter. The legislature of New Hampshire had, without the consent of this corporation, passed an act
changing the organization of the original provincial charter of the
college, and transferring all the rights, privileges, and franchises
from the old charter trustees to new trustees appointed under the
act. The constitutionality of the act was contested, and, after solemn arguments, it was deliberately held by the Supreme Court
that the provincial charter was a contract within the meaning of
the Constitution (Art. I. Section 10), and that the emendatory act
was utterly void, as impairing the obligation of that charter. The
college was deemed, like other colleges of private foundation, to
be a private eleemosynary institution, endowed by its charter with
a capacity to take property unconnected with the Government.
Its funds were bestowed upon the faith of the charter, and those
funds consisted entirely of private donations. It is true that the
uses were in some sense public, that is, for the general benefit, and
not for the mere benefit of the corporators; but this did not make
the corporation a public corporation. It was a private institution
for general charity. It was not distinguishable in principle from a
private donation, vested in private trustees, for a public charity, or
for a particular purpose of beneficence. And the State itself, if it
had bestowed funds upon a charity of the same nature, could not
resume those funds.

This provision appears to me to be the most serious attack

upon the independence of the States. The rights awarded to
the Federal Government for purposes of obvious national
importance are definite and easily comprehensible; but those
with which this last clause invests it are not either clearly
appreciable or accurately defined. For there are vast numbers of political laws which influence the existence of obligations of contracts, which may thus furnish an easy pretext
for the aggressions of the central authority.



Chapter VIII: The Federal Constitution Part IV

Procedure Of The Federal Courts
Natural weakness of the judiciary power in confederations Legislators ought to strive as much as possible to bring private individuals, and not States, before the Federal Courts
How the Americans have succeeded in this Direct prosecution of private individuals in the Federal Courts Indirect prosecution of the States which violate the laws of the
Union The decrees of the Supreme Court enervate but do
not destroy the provincial laws.
I have shown what the privileges of the Federal courts are,
and it is no less important to point out the manner in which
they are exercised. The irresistible authority of justice in countries in which the sovereignty in undivided is derived from
the fact that the tribunals of those countries represent the
entire nation at issue with the individual against whom their
decree is directed, and the idea of power is thus introduced
to corroborate the idea of right. But this is not always the

case in countries in which the sovereignty is divided; in them

the judicial power is more frequently opposed to a fraction
of the nation than to an isolated individual, and its moral
authority and physical strength are consequently diminished.
In federal States the power of the judge is naturally decreased,
and that of the justiciable parties is augmented. The aim of
the legislator in confederate States ought therefore to be to
render the position of the courts of justice analogous to that
which they occupy in countries where the sovereignty is undivided; in other words, his efforts ought constantly to tend
to maintain the judicial power of the confederation as the
representative of the nation, and the justiciable party as the
representative of an individual interest.
Every government, whatever may be its constitution, requires the means of constraining its subjects to discharge
their obligations, and of protecting its privileges from their
assaults. As far as the direct action of the Government on the
community is concerned, the Constitution of the United
States contrived, by a master-stroke of policy, that the federal courts, acting in the name of the laws, should only take
cognizance of parties in an individual capacity. For, as it had

Democracy in America
been declared that the Union consisted of one and the same
people within the limits laid down by the Constitution, the
inference was that the Government created by this Constitution, and acting within these limits, was invested with all
the privileges of a national government, one of the principal
of which is the right of transmitting its injunctions directly
to the private citizen. When, for instance, the Union votes
an impost, it does not apply to the States for the levying of
it, but to every American citizen in proportion to his assessment. The Supreme Court, which is empowered to enforce
the execution of this law of the Union, exerts its influence
not upon a refractory State, but upon the private taxpayer;
and, like the judicial power of other nations, it is opposed to
the person of an individual. It is to be observed that the
Union chose its own antagonist; and as that antagonist is
feeble, he is naturally worsted.
But the difficulty increases when the proceedings are not
brought forward by but against the Union. The Constitution recognizes the legislative power of the States; and a law
so enacted may impair the privileges of the Union, in which

case a collision in unavoidable between that body and the

State which has passed the law: and it only remains to select
the least dangerous remedy, which is very clearly deducible
from the general principles I have before established.*
It may be conceived that, in the case under consideration,
the Union might have used the State before a Federal court,
which would have annulled the act, and by this means it
would have adopted a natural course of proceeding; but the
judicial power would have been placed in open hostility to
the State, and it was desirable to avoid this predicament as
much as possible. The Americans hold that it is nearly impossible that a new law should not impair the interests of
some private individual by its provisions: these private interests are assumed by the American legislators as the ground of
attack against such measures as may be prejudicial to the
Union, and it is to these cases that the protection of the Supreme Court is extended.
Suppose a State vends a certain portion of its territory to a
company, and that a year afterwards it passes a law by which
the territory is otherwise disposed of, and that clause of the
*See Chapter VI. on Judicial Power in America.

Constitution which prohibits laws impairing the obligation
of contracts violated. When the purchaser under the second
act appears to take possession, the possessor under the first
act brings his action before the tribunals of the Union, and
causes the title of the claimant to be pronounced null and
void.* Thus, in point of fact, the judicial power of the Union
is contesting the claims of the sovereignty of a State; but it
only acts indirectly and upon a special application of detail:
it attacks the law in its consequences, not in its principle,
and it rather weakens than destroys it.
The last hypothesis that remained was that each State
formed a corporation enjoying a separate existence and distinct civil rights, and that it could therefore sue or be sued
before a tribunal. Thus a State could bring an action against
another State. In this instance the Union was not called upon
to contest a provincial law, but to try a suit in which a State
was a party. This suit was perfectly similar to any other cause,
except that the quality of the parties was different; and here
the danger pointed out at the beginning of this chapter exists with less chance of being avoided. The inherent disadvantage of the very essence of Federal constitutions is that
*See Kents Commentaries, vol. i. p. 387.

they engender parties in the bosom of the nation which

present powerful obstacles to the free course of justice.
High Rank of the Supreme Court Amongst the Great Powers
Of State No nation ever constituted so great a judicial power
as the Americans Extent of its prerogative Its political influence The tranquillity and the very existence of the Union
depend on the discretion of the seven Federal Judges.
When we have successively examined in detail the organization of the Supreme Court, and the entire prerogatives which
it exercises, we shall readily admit that a more imposing judicial power was never constituted by any people. The Supreme Court is placed at the head of all known tribunals,
both by the nature of its rights and the class of justiciable
parties which it controls.
In all the civilized countries of Europe the Government
has always shown the greatest repugnance to allow the cases
to which it was itself a party to be decided by the ordinary
course of justice. This repugnance naturally attains its utmost height in an absolute Government; and, on the other

Democracy in America
hand, the privileges of the courts of justice are extended with
the increasing liberties of the people: but no European nation has at present held that all judicial controversies, without regard to their origin, can be decided by the judges of
common law.
In America this theory has been actually put in practice,
and the Supreme Court of the United States is the sole tribunal of the nation. Its power extends to all the cases arising
under laws and treaties made by the executive and legislative
authorities, to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, and in general to all points which affect the law of nations. It may even be affirmed that, although its constitution
is essentially judicial, its prerogatives are almost entirely political. Its sole object is to enforce the execution of the laws of the
Union; and the Union only regulates the relations of the Government with the citizens, and of the nation with Foreign
Powers: the relations of citizens amongst themselves are almost exclusively regulated by the sovereignty of the States.
A second and still greater cause of the preponderance of
this court may be adduced. In the nations of Europe the
courts of justice are only called upon to try the controversies

of private individuals; but the Supreme Court of the United

States summons sovereign powers to its bar. When the clerk
of the court advances on the steps of the tribunal, and simply says, The State of New York versus the State of Ohio,
it is impossible not to feel that the Court which he addresses
is no ordinary body; and when it is recollected that one of
these parties represents one million, and the other two millions of men, one is struck by the responsibility of the seven
judges whose decision is about to satisfy or to disappoint so
large a number of their fellow-citizens.
The peace, the prosperity, and the very existence of the
Union are vested in the hands of the seven judges. Without
their active co-operation the Constitution would be a dead
letter: the Executive appeals to them for assistance against
the encroachments of the legislative powers; the Legislature
demands their protection from the designs of the Executive;
they defend the Union from the disobedience of the States,
the States from the exaggerated claims of the Union, the
public interest against the interests of private citizens, and
the conservative spirit of order against the fleeting innovations of democracy. Their power is enormous, but it is clothed

in the authority of public opinion. They are the all- powerful guardians of a people which respects law, but they would
be impotent against popular neglect or popular contempt.
The force of public opinion is the most intractable of agents,
because its exact limits cannot be defined; and it is not less
dangerous to exceed than to remain below the boundary prescribed.
The Federal judges must not only be good citizens, and men
possessed of that information and integrity which are indispensable to magistrates, but they must be statesmen -politicians, not unread in the signs of the times, not afraid to brave
the obstacles which can be subdued, nor slow to turn aside
such encroaching elements as may threaten the supremacy of
the Union and the obedience which is due to the laws.
The President, who exercises a limited power, may err without causing great mischief in the State. Congress may decide
amiss without destroying the Union, because the electoral
body in which Congress originates may cause it to retract its
decision by changing its members. But if the Supreme Court
is ever composed of imprudent men or bad citizens, the Union
may be plunged into anarchy or civil war.

The real cause of this danger, however, does not lie in the
constitution of the tribunal, but in the very nature of Federal Governments. We have observed that in confederate
peoples it is especially necessary to consolidate the judicial
authority, because in no other nations do those independent
persons who are able to cope with the social body exist in
greater power or in a better condition to resist the physical
strength of the Government. But the more a power requires
to be strengthened, the more extensive and independent it
must be made; and the dangers which its abuse may create
are heightened by its independence and its strength. The
source of the evil is not, therefore, in the constitution of the
power, but in the constitution of those States which render
its existence necessary.


Democracy in America
In What Respects the Federal Constitution Is Superior to
That of the States
In what respects the Constitution of the Union can be compared to that of the States Superiority of the Constitution
of the Union attributable to the wisdom of the Federal legislators -Legislature of the Union less dependent on the people
than that of the States Executive power more independent
in its sphere Judicial power less subjected to the inclinations of the majority Practical consequence of these facts
The dangers inherent in a democratic government eluded
by the Federal legislators, and increased by the legislators of
the States.
The Federal Constitution differs essentially from that of the
States in the ends which it is intended to accomplish, but in
the means by which these ends are promoted a greater analogy exists between them. The objects of the Governments
are different, but their forms are the same; and in this special
point of view there is some advantage in comparing them

I am of opinion that the Federal Constitution is superior

to all the Constitutions of the States, for several reasons.
The present Constitution of the Union was formed at a later
period than those of the majority of the States, and it may
have derived some ameliorations from past experience. But
we shall be led to acknowledge that this is only a secondary
cause of its superiority, when we recollect that eleven new
States* have been added to the American Confederation since
the promulgation of the Federal Constitution, and that these
new republics have always rather exaggerated than avoided
the defects which existed in the former Constitutions.
The chief cause of the superiority of the Federal Constitution lay in the character of the legislators who composed it.
At the time when it was formed the dangers of the Confederation were imminent, and its ruin seemed inevitable. In
this extremity the people chose the men who most deserved
the esteem, rather than those who had gained the affections,
of the country. I have already observed that distinguished as
almost all the legislators of the Union were for their intelligence, they were still more so for their patriotism. They had
*The number of States has now risen to 46 (1874), besides
the District of Columbia.

all been nurtured at a time when the spirit of liberty was braced
by a continual struggle against a powerful and predominant
authority. When the contest was terminated, whilst the excited passions of the populace persisted in warring with dangers which had ceased to threaten them, these men stopped
short in their career; they cast a calmer and more penetrating
look upon the country which was now their own; they perceived that the war of independence was definitely ended, and
that the only dangers which America had to fear were those
which might result from the abuse of the freedom she had
won. They had the courage to say what they believed to be
true, because they were animated by a warm and sincere love
of liberty; and they ventured to propose restrictions, because
they were resolutely opposed to destruction.*
*At this time Alexander Hamilton, who was one of the principal founders of the Constitution, ventured to express the
following sentiments in The Federalist, No. 71: -There
are some who would be inclined to regard the servile pliancy
of the Executive to a prevailing current, either in the community or in the Legislature, as its best recommendation.
But such men entertain very crude notions, as well of the
purposes for which government was instituted as of the true
means by which the public happiness may be promoted. The

Republican principle demands that the deliberative sense of

the community should govern the conduct of those to whom
they entrust the management of their affairs; but it does not
require an unqualified complaisance to every sudden breeze
of passion, or to every transient impulse which the people
may receive from the arts of men who flatter their prejudices
to betray their interests. It is a just observation, that the people
commonly intend the public good. This often applies to their
very errors. But their good sense would despise the adulator
who should pretend that they always reason right about the
means of promoting it. They know from experience that they
sometimes err; and the wonder is that they so seldom err as
they do, beset, as they continually are, by the wiles of parasites and sycophants; by the snares of the ambitious, the avaricious, the desperate; by the artifices of men who possess
their confidence more than they deserve it, and of those who
seek to possess rather than to deserve it. When occasions
present themselves in which the interests of the people are at
variance with their inclinations, it is the duty of persons whom
they have appointed to be the guardians of those interests to
withstand the temporary delusion, in order to give them time
and opportunity for more cool and sedate reflection. Instances
might be cited in which a conduct of this kind has saved the
people from very fatal consequences of their own mistakes,
and has procured lasting monuments of their gratitude to
the men who had courage and magnanimity enough to serve
them at the peril of their displeasure.

Democracy in America
The greater number of the Constitutions of the States assign one year for the duration of the House of Representatives, and two years for that of the Senate; so that members
of the legislative body are constantly and narrowly tied down
by the slightest desires of their constituents. The legislators
of the Union were of opinion that this excessive dependence
of the Legislature tended to alter the nature of the main consequences of the representative system, since it vested the
source, not only of authority, but of government, in the
people. They increased the length of the time for which the
representatives were returned, in order to give them freer
scope for the exercise of their own judgment.
The Federal Constitution, as well as the Constitutions of
the different States, divided the legislative body into two
branches. But in the States these two branches were composed of the same elements, and elected in the same manner. The consequence was that the passions and inclinations
of the populace were as rapidly and as energetically represented in one chamber as in the other, and that laws were
made with all the characteristics of violence and precipitation. By the Federal Constitution the two houses originate

in like manner in the choice of the people; but the conditions of eligibility and the mode of election were changed, to
the end that, if, as is the case in certain nations, one branch
of the Legislature represents the same interests as the other,
it may at least represent a superior degree of intelligence and
discretion. A mature age was made one of the conditions of
the senatorial dignity, and the Upper House was chosen by
an elected assembly of a limited number of members.
To concentrate the whole social force in the hands of the
legislative body is the natural tendency of democracies; for
as this is the power which emanates the most directly from
the people, it is made to participate most fully in the preponderating authority of the multitude, and it is naturally
led to monopolize every species of influence. This concentration is at once prejudicial to a well-conducted administration, and favorable to the despotism of the majority. The
legislators of the States frequently yielded to these democratic propensities, which were invariably and courageously
resisted by the founders of the Union.
In the States the executive power is vested in the hands of
a magistrate, who is apparently placed upon a level with the

Legislature, but who is in reality nothing more than the blind
agent and the passive instrument of its decisions. He can
derive no influence from the duration of his functions, which
terminate with the revolving year, or from the exercise of
prerogatives which can scarcely be said to exist. The Legislature can condemn him to inaction by intrusting the execution of the laws to special committees of its own members,
and can annul his temporary dignity by depriving him of his
salary. The Federal Constitution vests all the privileges and
all the responsibility of the executive power in a single individual. The duration of the Presidency is fixed at four years;
the salary of the individual who fills that office cannot be
altered during the term of his functions; he is protected by a
body of official dependents, and armed with a suspensive
veto. In short, every effort was made to confer a strong and
independent position upon the executive authority within
the limits which had been prescribed to it.
In the Constitutions of all the States the judicial power is
that which remains the most independent of the legislative
authority; nevertheless, in all the States the Legislature has
reserved to itself the right of regulating the emoluments of

the judges, a practice which necessarily subjects these magistrates to its immediate influence. In some States the judges are
only temporarily appointed, which deprives them of a great
portion of their power and their freedom. In others the legislative and judicial powers are entirely confounded; thus the
Senate of New York, for instance, constitutes in certain cases
the Superior Court of the State. The Federal Constitution, on
the other hand, carefully separates the judicial authority from
all external influences; and it provides for the independence of
the judges, by declaring that their salary shall not be altered,
and that their functions shall be inalienable.
The practical consequences of these different systems may
easily be perceived. An attentive observer will soon remark that
the business of the Union is incomparably better conducted
than that of any individual State. The conduct of the Federal
Government is more fair and more temperate than that of the
States, its designs are more fraught with wisdom, its projects are
more durable and more skilfully combined, its measures are put
into execution with more vigor and consistency.
I recapitulate the substance of this chapter in a few words:
The existence of democracies is threatened by two dangers,

Democracy in America
viz., the complete subjection of the legislative body to the
caprices of the electoral body, and the concentration of all
the powers of the Government in the legislative authority.
The growth of these evils has been encouraged by the policy
of the legislators of the States, but it has been resisted by the
legislators of the Union by every means which lay within
their control.
Characteristics Which Distinguish The Federal Constitution
Of The United States Of America From All Other Federal
Constitutions American Union appears to resemble all other
confederations Nevertheless its effects are different Reason of this Distinctions between the Union and all other
confederations The American Government not a federal
but an imperfect national Government.
The United States of America do not afford either the first
or the only instance of confederate States, several of which
have existed in modern Europe, without adverting to those
of antiquity. Switzerland, the Germanic Empire, and the
Republic of the United Provinces either have been or still are

confederations. In studying the constitutions of these different countries, the politician is surprised to observe that the
powers with which they invested the Federal Government
are nearly identical with the privileges awarded by the American Constitution to the Government of the United States.
They confer upon the central power the same rights of making peace and war, of raising money and troops, and of providing for the general exigencies and the common interests
of the nation. Nevertheless the Federal Government of these
different peoples has always been as remarkable for its weakness and inefficiency as that of the Union is for its vigorous
and enterprising spirit. Again, the first American Confederation perished through the excessive weakness of its Government; and this weak Government was, notwithstanding,
in possession of rights even more extensive than those of the
Federal Government of the present day. But the more recent
Constitution of the United States contains certain principles
which exercise a most important influence, although they
do not at once strike the observer.
This Constitution, which may at first sight be confounded
with the federal constitutions which preceded it, rests upon

a novel theory, which may be considered as a great invention
in modern political science. In all the confederations which
had been formed before the American Constitution of 1789
the allied States agreed to obey the injunctions of a Federal
Government; but they reserved to themselves the right of
ordaining and enforcing the execution of the laws of the
Union. The American States which combined in 1789 agreed
that the Federal Government should not only dictate the
laws, but that it should execute it own enactments. In both
cases the right is the same, but the exercise of the right is
different; and this alteration produced the most momentous
In all the confederations which had been formed before
the American Union the Federal Government demanded its
supplies at the hands of the separate Governments; and if
the measure it prescribed was onerous to any one of those
bodies means were found to evade its claims: if the State was
powerful, it had recourse to arms; if it was weak, it connived
at the resistance which the law of the Union, its sovereign,
met with, and resorted to inaction under the plea of inability. Under these circumstances one of the two alternatives

has invariably occurred; either the most preponderant of the

allied peoples has assumed the privileges of the Federal authority and ruled all the States in its name,* or the Federal
Government has been abandoned by its natural supporters,
anarchy has arisen between the confederates, and the Union
has lost all powers of action.**
In America the subjects of the Union are not States, but
private citizens: the national Government levies a tax, not
upon the State of Massachusetts, but upon each inhabitant
of Massachusetts. All former confederate governments presided over communities, but that of the Union rules individuals; its force is not borrowed, but self-derived; and it is
served by its own civil and military officers, by its own army,
and its own courts of justice. It cannot be doubted that the
*This was the case in Greece, when Philip undertook to execute the decree of the Amphictyons; in the Low Countries,
where the province of Holland always gave the law; and, in
our own time, in the Germanic Confederation, in which
Austria and Prussia assume a great degree of influence over
the whole country, in the name of the Diet.
**Such has always been the situation of the Swiss Confederation, which would have perished ages ago but for the
mutual jealousies of its neighbors.

Democracy in America
spirit of the nation, the passions of the multitude, and the
provincial prejudices of each State tend singularly to diminish the authority of a Federal authority thus constituted, and
to facilitate the means of resistance to its mandates; but the
comparative weakness of a restricted sovereignty is an evil
inherent in the Federal system. In America, each State has
fewer opportunities of resistance and fewer temptations to
non-compliance; nor can such a design be put in execution
(if indeed it be entertained) without an open violation of the
laws of the Union, a direct interruption of the ordinary course
of justice, and a bold declaration of revolt; in a word, without taking a decisive step which men hesitate to adopt.
In all former confederations the privileges of the Union
furnished more elements of discord than of power, since they
multiplied the claims of the nation without augmenting the
means of enforcing them: and in accordance with this fact it
may be remarked that the real weakness of federal governments has almost always been in the exact ratio of their nominal power. Such is not the case in the American Union, in
which, as in ordinary governments, the Federal Government
has the means of enforcing all it is empowered to demand.

The human understanding more easily invents new things

than new words, and we are thence constrained to employ a
multitude of improper and inadequate expressions. When
several nations form a permanent league and establish a supreme authority, which, although it has not the same influence over the members of the community as a national government, acts upon each of the Confederate States in a body,
this Government, which is so essentially different from all
others, is denominated a Federal one. Another form of society is afterwards discovered, in which several peoples are fused
into one and the same nation with regard to certain common interests, although they remain distinct, or at least only
confederate, with regard to all their other concerns. In this
case the central power acts directly upon those whom it governs, whom it rules, and whom it judges, in the same manner, as, but in a more limited circle than, a national government. Here the term Federal Government is clearly no longer
applicable to a state of things which must be styled an incomplete national Government: a form of government has
been found out which is neither exactly national nor federal;
but no further progress has been made, and the new word

which will one day designate this novel invention does not
yet exist.
The absence of this new species of confederation has been
the cause which has brought all Unions to Civil War, to subjection, or to a stagnant apathy, and the peoples which formed
these leagues have been either too dull to discern, or too
pusillanimous to apply this great remedy. The American
Confederation perished by the same defects.
But the Confederate States of America had been long accustomed to form a portion of one empire before they had
won their independence; they had not contracted the habit
of governing themselves, and their national prejudices had
not taken deep root in their minds. Superior to the rest of
the world in political knowledge, and sharing that knowledge equally amongst themselves, they were little agitated by
the passions which generally oppose the extension of federal
authority in a nation, and those passions were checked by
the wisdom of the chief citizens. The Americans applied the
remedy with prudent firmness as soon as they were conscious
of the evil; they amended their laws, and they saved their

Chapter VIII: The Federal Constitution Part V

Advantages of the Federal System in General,
and Its Special Utility in America
Happiness and freedom of small nations Power of great
nations Great empires favorable to the growth of civilization Strength often the first element of national prosperity
Aim of the Federal system to unite the twofold advantages
resulting from a small and from a large territory Advantages derived by the United States from this system The
law adapts itself to the exigencies of the population; population does not conform to the exigencies of the law Activity,
amelioration, love and enjoyment of freedom in the American communities Public spirit of the Union the abstract of
provincial patriotism Principles and things circulate freely
over the territory of the United States The Union is happy
and free as a little nation, and respected as a great empire.
In small nations the scrutiny of society penetrates into every
part, and the spirit of improvement enters into the most tri181

Democracy in America
fling details; as the ambition of the people is necessarily
checked by its weakness, all the efforts and resources of the
citizens are turned to the internal benefit of the community,
and are not likely to evaporate in the fleeting breath of glory.
The desires of every individual are limited, because extraordinary faculties are rarely to be met with. The gifts of an
equal fortune render the various conditions of life uniform,
and the manners of the inhabitants are orderly and simple.
Thus, if one estimate the gradations of popular morality and
enlightenment, we shall generally find that in small nations
there are more persons in easy circumstances, a more numerous population, and a more tranquil state of society, than
in great empires.
When tyranny is established in the bosom of a small nation, it is more galling than elsewhere, because, as it acts
within a narrow circle, every point of that circle is subject to
its direct influence. It supplies the place of those great designs which it cannot entertain by a violent or an exasperating interference in a multitude of minute details; and it leaves
the political world, to which it properly belongs, to meddle
with the arrangements of domestic life. Tastes as well as ac-

tions are to be regulated at its pleasure; and the families of

the citizens as well as the affairs of the State are to be governed by its decisions. This invasion of rights occurs, however, but seldom, and freedom is in truth the natural state of
small communities. The temptations which the Government
offers to ambition are too weak, and the resources of private
individuals are too slender, for the sovereign power easily to
fall within the grasp of a single citizen; and should such an
event have occurred, the subjects of the State can without
difficulty overthrow the tyrant and his oppression by a simultaneous effort.
Small nations have therefore ever been the cradle of political liberty; and the fact that many of them have lost their
immunities by extending their dominion shows that the freedom they enjoyed was more a consequence of the inferior
size than of the character of the people.
The history of the world affords no instance of a great
nation retaining the form of republican government for a
long series of years,* and this has led to the conclusion that
such a state of things is impracticable. For my own part, I
*I do not speak of a confederation of small republics, but of
a great consolidated Republic.

cannot but censure the imprudence of attempting to limit
the possible and to judge the future on the part of a being
who is hourly deceived by the most palpable realities of life,
and who is constantly taken by surprise in the circumstances
with which he is most familiar. But it may be advanced with
confidence that the existence of a great republic will always
be exposed to far greater perils than that of a small one.
All the passions which are most fatal to republican institutions spread with an increasing territory, whilst the virtues
which maintain their dignity do not augment in the same
proportion. The ambition of the citizens increases with the
power of the State; the strength of parties with the importance of the ends they have in view; but that devotion to the
common weal which is the surest check on destructive passions is not stronger in a large than in a small republic. It
might, indeed, be proved without difficulty that it is less
powerful and less sincere. The arrogance of wealth and the
dejection of wretchedness, capital cities of unwonted extent,
a lax morality, a vulgar egotism, and a great confusion of
interests, are the dangers which almost invariably arise from
the magnitude of States. But several of these evils are scarcely

prejudicial to a monarchy, and some of them contribute to

maintain its existence. In monarchical States the strength of
the government is its own; it may use, but it does not depend on, the community, and the authority of the prince is
proportioned to the prosperity of the nation; but the only
security which a republican government possesses against
these evils lies in the support of the majority. This support is
not, however, proportionably greater in a large republic than
it is in a small one; and thus, whilst the means of attack
perpetually increase both in number and in influence, the
power of resistance remains the same, or it may rather be
said to diminish, since the propensities and interests of the
people are diversified by the increase of the population, and
the difficulty of forming a compact majority is constantly
augmented. It has been observed, moreover, that the intensity of human passions is heightened, not only by the importance of the end which they propose to attain, but by the
multitude of individuals who are animated by them at the
same time. Every one has had occasion to remark that his
emotions in the midst of a sympathizing crowd are far greater
than those which he would have felt in solitude. In great

Democracy in America
republics the impetus of political passion is irresistible, not
only because it aims at gigantic purposes, but because it is
felt and shared by millions of men at the same time.
It may therefore be asserted as a general proposition that
nothing is more opposed to the well-being and the freedom
of man than vast empires. Nevertheless it is important to
acknowledge the peculiar advantages of great States. For the
very reason which renders the desire of power more intense
in these communities than amongst ordinary men, the love
of glory is also more prominent in the hearts of a class of
citizens, who regard the applause of a great people as a reward worthy of their exertions, and an elevating encouragement to man. If we would learn why it is that great nations
contribute more powerfully to the spread of human improvement than small States, we shall discover an adequate cause
in the rapid and energetic circulation of ideas, and in those
great cities which are the intellectual centres where all the
rays of human genius are reflected and combined. To this it
may be added that most important discoveries demand a
display of national power which the Government of a small
State is unable to make; in great nations the Government

entertains a greater number of general notions, and is more

completely disengaged from the routine of precedent and
the egotism of local prejudice; its designs are conceived with
more talent, and executed with more boldness.
In time of peace the well-being of small nations is undoubtedly more general and more complete, but they are apt to
suffer more acutely from the calamities of war than those
great empires whose distant frontiers may for ages avert the
presence of the danger from the mass of the people, which is
therefore more frequently afflicted than ruined by the evil.
But in this matter, as in many others, the argument derived from the necessity of the case predominates over all
others. If none but small nations existed, I do not doubt that
mankind would be more happy and more free; but the existence of great nations is unavoidable.
This consideration introduces the element of physical
strength as a condition of national prosperity. It profits a
people but little to be affluent and free if it is perpetually
exposed to be pillaged or subjugated; the number of its manufactures and the extent of its commerce are of small advantage if another nation has the empire of the seas and gives

the law in all the markets of the globe. Small nations are
often impoverished, not because they are small, but because
they are weak; the great empires prosper less because they
are great than because they are strong. Physical strength is
therefore one of the first conditions of the happiness and
even of the existence of nations. Hence it occurs that, unless
very peculiar circumstances intervene, small nations are always united to large empires in the end, either by force or by
their own consent: yet I am unacquainted with a more deplorable spectacle than that of a people unable either to defend or to maintain its independence.
The Federal system was created with the intention of combining the different advantages which result from the greater
and the lesser extent of nations; and a single glance over the
United States of America suffices to discover the advantages
which they have derived from its adoption.
In great centralized nations the legislator is obliged to impart a character of uniformity to the laws which does not
always suit the diversity of customs and of districts; as he
takes no cognizance of special cases, he can only proceed
upon general principles; and the population is obliged to

conform to the exigencies of the legislation, since the legislation cannot adapt itself to the exigencies and the customs of
the population, which is the cause of endless trouble and
misery. This disadvantage does not exist in confederations.
Congress regulates the principal measures of the national
Government, and all the details of the administration are
reserved to the provincial legislatures. It is impossible to imagine how much this division of sovereignty contributes to the
well-being of each of the States which compose the Union.
In these small communities, which are never agitated by the
desire of aggrandizement or the cares of self-defence, all public
authority and private energy is employed in internal amelioration. The central government of each State, which is in
immediate juxtaposition to the citizens, is daily apprised of
the wants which arise in society; and new projects are proposed every year, which are discussed either at town meetings or by the legislature of the State, and which are transmitted by the press to stimulate the zeal and to excite the
interest of the citizens. This spirit of amelioration is constantly alive in the American republics, without compromising their tranquillity; the ambition of power yields to the

Democracy in America
less refined and less dangerous love of comfort. It is generally believed in America that the existence and the permanence of the republican form of government in the New
World depend upon the existence and the permanence of
the Federal system; and it is not unusual to attribute a large
share of the misfortunes which have befallen the new States
of South America to the injudicious erection of great republics, instead of a divided and confederate sovereignty.
It is incontestably true that the love and the habits of republican government in the United States were engendered
in the townships and in the provincial assemblies. In a small
State, like that of Connecticut for instance, where cutting a
canal or laying down a road is a momentous political question, where the State has no army to pay and no wars to
carry on, and where much wealth and much honor cannot
be bestowed upon the chief citizens, no form of government
can be more natural or more appropriate than that of a republic. But it is this same republican spirit, it is these manners and customs of a free people, which are engendered and
nurtured in the different States, to be afterwards applied to
the country at large. The public spirit of the Union is, so to

speak, nothing more than an abstract of the patriotic zeal of

the provinces. Every citizen of the United States transfuses
his attachment to his little republic in the common store of
American patriotism. In defending the Union he defends
the increasing prosperity of his own district, the right of conducting its affairs, and the hope of causing measures of improvement to be adopted which may be favorable to his own
interest; and these are motives which are wont to stir men
more readily than the general interests of the country and
the glory of the nation.
On the other hand, if the temper and the manners of the
inhabitants especially fitted them to promote the welfare of
a great republic, the Federal system smoothed the obstacles
which they might have encountered. The confederation of
all the American States presents none of the ordinary disadvantages resulting from great agglomerations of men. The
Union is a great republic in extent, but the paucity of objects
for which its Government provides assimilates it to a small
State. Its acts are important, but they are rare. As the sovereignty of th Union is limited and incomplete, its exercise is
not incompatible with liberty; for it does not excite those

insatiable desires of fame and power which have proved so
fatal to great republics. As there is no common centre to the
country, vast capital cities, colossal wealth, abject poverty,
and sudden revolutions are alike unknown; and political
passion, instead of spreading over the land like a torrent of
desolation, spends its strength against the interests and the
individual passions of every State.
Nevertheless, all commodities and ideas circulate throughout the Union as freely as in a country inhabited by one
people. Nothing checks the spirit of enterprise. Government
avails itself of the assistance of all who have talents or knowledge to serve it. Within the frontiers of the Union the
profoundest peace prevails, as within the heart of some great
empire; abroad, it ranks with the most powerful nations of
the earth; two thousand miles of coast are open to the commerce of the world; and as it possesses the keys of the globe,
its flags is respected in the most remote seas. The Union is as
happy and as free as a small people, and as glorious and as
strong as a great nation.

Why the Federal System Is Not Adapted to All Peoples,

and How the Anglo-Americans Were Enabled to Adopt It
Every Federal system contains defects which baffle the efforts
of the legislator The Federal system is complex It demands
a daily exercise of discretion on the part of the citizens Practical knowledge of government common amongst the Americans Relative weakness of the Government of the Union,
another defect inherent in the Federal system The Americans have diminished without remedying it The sovereignty
of the separate States apparently weaker, but really stronger,
than that of the Union Why? Natural causes of union
must exist between confederate peoples besides the laws What
these causes are amongst the Anglo-Americans Maine and
Georgia, separated by a distance of a thousand miles, more
naturally united than Normandy and Brittany War, the main
peril of confederations This proved even by the example of
the United States The Union has no great wars to fear
Why? Dangers to which Europeans would be exposed if
they adopted the Federal system of the Americans.
When a legislator succeeds, after persevering efforts, in exercising an indirect influence upon the destiny of nations, his

Democracy in America
genius is lauded by mankind, whilst, in point of fact, the
geographical position of the country which he is unable to
change, a social condition which arose without his co-operation, manners and opinions which he cannot trace to their
source, and an origin with which he is unacquainted, exercise so irresistible an influence over the courses of society
that he is himself borne away by the current, after an ineffectual resistance. Like the navigator, he may direct the vessel which bears him along, but he can neither change its
structure, nor raise the winds, nor lull the waters which swell
beneath him.
I have shown the advantages which the Americans derive
from their federal system; it remains for me to point out the
circumstances which rendered that system practicable, as its
benefits are not to be enjoyed by all nations. The incidental
defects of the Federal system which originate in the laws may
be corrected by the skill of the legislator, but there are further evils inherent in the system which cannot be counteracted by the peoples which adopt it. These nations must therefore find the strength necessary to support the natural imperfections of their Government.

The most prominent evil of all Federal systems is the very

complex nature of the means they employ. Two sovereignties
are necessarily in presence of each other. The legislator may
simplify and equalize the action of these two sovereignties,
by limiting each of them to a sphere of authority accurately
defined; but he cannot combine them into one, or prevent
them from coming into collision at certain points. The Federal system therefore rests upon a theory which is necessarily
complicated, and which demands the daily exercise of a considerable share of discretion on the part of those it governs.
A proposition must be plain to be adopted by the understanding of a people. A false notion which is clear and precise will always meet with a greater number of adherents in
the world than a true principle which is obscure or involved.
Hence it arises that parties, which are like small communities in the heart of the nation, invariably adopt some principle or some name as a symbol, which very inadequately
represents the end they have in view and the means which
are at their disposal, but without which they could neither
act nor subsist. The governments which are founded upon a
single principle or a single feeling which is easily defined are

perhaps not the best, but they are unquestionably the strongest and the most durable in the world.
In examining the Constitution of the United States, which
is the most perfect federal constitution that ever existed, one
is startled, on the other hand, at the variety of information
and the excellence of discretion which it presupposes in the
people whom it is meant to govern. The government of the
Union depends entirely upon legal fictions; the Union is an
ideal nation which only exists in the mind, and whose limits
and extent can only be discerned by the understanding.
When once the general theory is comprehended, numberless difficulties remain to be solved in its application; for the
sovereignty of the Union is so involved in that of the States
that it is impossible to distinguish its boundaries at the first
glance. The whole structure of the Government is artificial
and conventional; and it would be ill adapted to a people
which has not been long accustomed to conduct its own
affairs, or to one in which the science of politics has not
descended to the humblest classes of society. I have never
been more struck by the good sense and the practical judgment of the Americans than in the ingenious devices by which

they elude the numberless difficulties resulting from their

Federal Constitution. I scarcely ever met with a plain American citizen who could not distinguish, with surprising facility, the obligations created by the laws of Congress from those
created by the laws of his own State; and who, after having
discriminated between the matters which come under the
cognizance of the Union and those which the local legislature is competent to regulate, could not point out the exact
limit of the several jurisdictions of the Federal courts and the
tribunals of the State.
The Constitution of the United States is like those exquisite productions of human industry which ensure wealth and
renown to their inventors, but which are profitless in any
other hands. This truth is exemplified by the condition of
Mexico at the present time. The Mexicans were desirous of
establishing a federal system, and they took the Federal Constitution of their neighbors, the Anglo-Americans, as their
model, and copied it with considerable accuracy.* But although they had borrowed the letter of the law, they were
unable to create or to introduce the spirit and the sense which
*See the Mexican Constitution of 1824.

Democracy in America
give it life. They were involved in ceaseless embarrassments
between the mechanism of their double government; the
sovereignty of the States and that of the Union perpetually
exceeded their respective privileges, and entered into collision; and to the present day Mexico is alternately the victim
of anarchy and the slave of military despotism.
The second and the most fatal of all the defects I have
alluded to, and that which I believe to be inherent in the
federal system, is the relative weakness of the government of
the Union. The principle upon which all confederations rest
is that of a divided sovereignty. The legislator may render
this partition less perceptible, he may even conceal it for a
time from the public eye, but he cannot prevent it from existing, and a divided sovereignty must always be less powerful than an entire supremacy. The reader has seen in the remarks I have made on the Constitution of the United States
that the Americans have displayed singular ingenuity in combining the restriction of the power of the Union within the
narrow limits of a federal government with the semblance
and, to a certain extent, with the force of a national government. By this means the legislators of the Union have suc-

ceeded in diminishing, though not in counteracting the natural danger of confederations.

It has been remarked that the American Government does
not apply itself to the States, but that it immediately transmits its injunctions to the citizens, and compels them as isolated individuals to comply with its demands. But if the Federal law were to clash with the interests and the prejudices of
a State, it might be feared that all the citizens of that State
would conceive themselves to be interested in the cause of a
single individual who should refuse to obey. If all the citizens of the State were aggrieved at the same time and in the
same manner by the authority of the Union, the Federal
Government would vainly attempt to subdue them individually; they would instinctively unite in a common defence,
and they would derive a ready-prepared organization from
the share of sovereignty which the institution of their State
allows them to enjoy. Fiction would give way to reality, and
an organized portion of the territory might then contest the
central authority.* The same observation holds good with
*This is precisely what occurred in 1862, and the following
paragraph describes correctly the feelings and notions of the
South. General Lee held that his primary allegiance was due,
not to the Union, but to Virginia.

regard to the Federal jurisdiction. If the courts of the Union
violated an important law of a State in a private case, the
real, if not the apparent, contest would arise between the
aggrieved State represented by a citizen and the Union represented by its courts of justice.*
He would have but a partial knowledge of the world who
should imagine that it is possible, by the aid of legal fictions,
to prevent men from finding out and employing those means
of gratifying their passions which have been left open to them;
and it may be doubted whether the American legislators,
*For instance, the Union possesses by the Constitution the
right of selling unoccupied lands for its own profit. Supposing that the State of Ohio should claim the same right in
behalf of certain territories lying within its boundaries, upon
the plea that the Constitution refers to those lands alone
which do not belong to the jurisdiction of any particular
State, and consequently should choose to dispose of them
itself, the litigation would be carried on in the names of the
purchasers from the State of Ohio and the purchasers from
the Union, and not in the names of Ohio and the Union.
But what would become of this legal fiction if the Federal
purchaser was confirmed in his right by the courts of the
Union, whilst the other competitor was ordered to retain
possession by the tribunals of the State of Ohio?

when they rendered a collision between the two sovereigns

less probable, destroyed the cause of such a misfortune. But
it may even be affirmed that they were unable to ensure the
preponderance of the Federal element in a case of this kind.
The Union is possessed of money and of troops, but the
affections and the prejudices of the people are in the bosom
of the States. The sovereignty of the Union is an abstract
being, which is connected with but few external objects; the
sovereignty of the States is hourly perceptible, easily understood, constantly active; and if the former is of recent creation, the latter is coeval with the people itself. The sovereignty of the Union is factitious, that of the States is natural,
and derives its existence from its own simple influence, like
the authority of a parent. The supreme power of the nation
only affects a few of the chief interests of society; it represents an immense but remote country, and claims a feeling
of patriotism which is vague and ill defined; but the authority of the States controls every individual citizen at every
hour and in all circumstances; it protects his property, his
freedom, and his life; and when we recollect the traditions,
the customs, the prejudices of local and familiar attachment

Democracy in America
with which it is connected, we cannot doubt of the superiority of a power which is interwoven with every circumstance
that renders the love of ones native country instinctive in
the human heart.
Since legislators are unable to obviate such dangerous collisions as occur between the two sovereignties which coexist
in the federal system, their first object must be, not only to
dissuade the confederate States from warfare, but to encourage such institutions as may promote the maintenance of
peace. Hence it results that the Federal compact cannot be
lasting unless there exists in the communities which are
leagued together a certain number of inducements to union
which render their common dependence agreeable, and the
task of the Government light, and that system cannot succeed without the presence of favorable circumstances added
to the influence of good laws. All the peoples which have
ever formed a confederation have been held together by a
certain number of common interests, which served as the
intellectual ties of association.
But the sentiments and the principles of man must be taken
into consideration as well as his immediate interests. A certain

uniformity of civilization is not less necessary to the durability

of a confederation than a uniformity of interests in the States
which compose it. In Switzerland the difference which exists
between the Canton of Uri and the Canton of Vaud is equal
to that between the fifteenth and the nineteenth centuries;
and, properly speaking, Switzerland has never possessed a federal government. The union between these two cantons only
subsists upon the map, and their discrepancies would soon be
perceived if an attempt were made by a central authority to
prescribe the same laws to the whole territory.
One of the circumstances which most powerfully contribute to support the Federal Government in America is that
the States have not only similar interests, a common origin,
and a common tongue, but that they are also arrived at the
same stage of civilization; which almost always renders a
union feasible. I do not know of any European nation, how
small soever it may be, which does not present less uniformity in its different provinces than the American people,
which occupies a territory as extensive as one-half of Europe. The distance from the State of Maine to that of Georgia is reckoned at about one thousand miles; but the differ192

ence between the civilization of Maine and that of Georgia
is slighter than the difference between the habits of Normandy
and those of Brittany. Maine and Georgia, which are placed
at the opposite extremities of a great empire, are consequently
in the natural possession of more real inducements to form a
confederation than Normandy and Brittany, which are only
separated by a bridge.
The geographical position of the country contributed to
increase the facilities which the American legislators derived
from the manners and customs of the inhabitants; and it is
to this circumstance that the adoption and the maintenance
of the Federal system are mainly attributable.
The most important occurrence which can mark the annals of a people is the breaking out of a war. In war a people
struggles with the energy of a single man against foreign nations in the defence of its very existence. The skill of a government, the good sense of the community, and the natural
fondness which men entertain for their country, may suffice
to maintain peace in the interior of a district, and to favor its
internal prosperity; but a nation can only carry on a great
war at the cost of more numerous and more painful sacri-

fices; and to suppose that a great number of men will of their

own accord comply with these exigencies of the State is to
betray an ignorance of mankind. All the peoples which have
been obliged to sustain a long and serious warfare have consequently been led to augment the power of their government. Those which have not succeeded in this attempt have
been subjugated. A long war almost always places nations in
the wretched alternative of being abandoned to ruin by defeat or to despotism by success. War therefore renders the
symptoms of the weakness of a government most palpable
and most alarming; and I have shown that the inherent defeat of federal governments is that of being weak.
The Federal system is not only deficient in every kind of
centralized administration, but the central government itself
is imperfectly organized, which is invariably an influential
cause of inferiority when the nation is opposed to other countries which are themselves governed by a single authority. In
the Federal Constitution of the United States, by which the
central government possesses more real force, this evil is still
extremely sensible. An example will illustrate the case to the

Democracy in America
The Constitution confers upon Congress the right of calling forth militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress
insurrections, and repel invasions; and another article declares that the President of the United States is the commander-in-chief of the militia. In the war of 1812 the President ordered the militia of the Northern States to march to
the frontiers; but Connecticut and Massachusetts, whose
interests were impaired by the war, refused to obey the command. They argued that the Constitution authorizes the Federal Government to call forth the militia in case of insurrection or invasion, but that in the present instance there was
neither invasion nor insurrection. They added, that the same
Constitution which conferred upon the Union the right of
calling forth the militia reserved to the States that of naming
the officers; and that consequently (as they understood the
clause) no officer of the Union had any right to command
the militia, even during war, except the President in person;
and in this case they were ordered to join an army commanded by another individual. These absurd and pernicious
doctrines received the sanction not only of the governors
and the legislative bodies, but also of the courts of justice in

both States; and the Federal Government was constrained to

raise elsewhere the troops which it required.*
The only safeguard which the American Union, with all
the relative perfection of its laws, possesses against the dissolution which would be produced by a great war, lies in its
probable exemption from that calamity. Placed in the centre
of an immense continent, which offers a boundless field for
human industry, the Union is almost as much insulated from
the world as if its frontiers were girt by the ocean. Canada
*Kents Commentaries, vol. i. p. 244. I have selected an
example which relates to a time posterior to the promulgation of the present Constitution. If I had gone back to the
days of the Confederation, I might have given still more striking instances. The whole nation was at that time in a state of
enthusiastic excitement; the Revolution was represented by
a man who was the idol of the people; but at that very period
Congress had, to say the truth, no resources at all at its disposal. Troops and supplies were perpetually wanting. The
best-devised projects failed in the execution, and the Union,
which was constantly on the verge of destruction, was saved
by the weakness of its enemies far more than by its own
strength. [All doubt as to the powers of the Federal Executive was, however, removed by its efforts in the Civil War,
and those powers were largely extended.

contains only a million of inhabitants, and its population is
divided into two inimical nations. The rigor of the climate
limits the extension of its territory, and shuts up its ports
during the six months of winter. From Canada to the Gulf
of Mexico a few savage tribes are to be met with, which retire, perishing in their retreat, before six thousand soldiers.
To the South, the Union has a point of contact with the
empire of Mexico; and it is thence that serious hostilities
may one day be expected to arise. But for a long while to
come the uncivilized state of the Mexican community, the
depravity of its morals, and its extreme poverty, will prevent
that country from ranking high amongst nations.* As for
the Powers of Europe, they are too distant to be formidable.
The great advantage of the United States does not, then,
consist in a Federal Constitution which allows them to carry
on great wars, but in a geographical position which renders
such enterprises extremely improbable.
No one can be more inclined than I am myself to appreciate the advantages of the federal system, which I hold to be

one of the combinations most favorable to the prosperity

and freedom of man. I envy the lot of those nations which
have been enabled to adopt it; but I cannot believe that any
confederate peoples could maintain a long or an equal contest with a nation of similar strength in which the government should be centralized. A people which should divide
its sovereignty into fractional powers, in the presence of the
great military monarchies of Europe, would, in my opinion,
by that very act, abdicate its power, and perhaps its existence
and its name. But such is the admirable position of the New
World that man has no other enemy than himself; and that,
in order to be happy and to be free, it suffices to seek the
gifts of prosperity and the knowledge of freedom.

*War broke out between the United States and Mexico in

1846, and ended in the conquest of an immense territory,
including California.

Democracy in America

Chapter XI: Why the People May Strictly Be

Said to Govern in the United States
I have hitherto examined the institutions of the United States;
I have passed their legislation in review, and I have depicted
the present characteristics of political society in that country. But a sovereign power exists above these institutions and
beyond these characteristic features which may destroy or
modify them at its pleasure I mean that of the people. It
remains to be shown in what manner this power, which regulates the laws, acts: its propensities and its passions remain to
be pointed out, as well as the secret springs which retard,
accelerate, or direct its irresistible course; and the effects of
its unbounded authority, with the destiny which is probably
reserved for it.
Chapter X: Why The People May Strictly Be Said To
Govern In The United States

fences against the laws. The American institutions are democratic, not only in their principle but in all their consequences;
and the people elects its representatives directly, and for the
most part annually, in order to ensure their dependence. The
people is therefore the real directing power; and although
the form of government is representative, it is evident that
the opinions, the prejudices, the interests, and even the passions of the community are hindered by no durable obstacles
from exercising a perpetual influence on society. In the United
States the majority governs in the name of the people, as is
the case in all the countries in which the people is supreme.
The majority is principally composed of peaceful citizens
who, either by inclination or by interest, are sincerely desirous of the welfare of their country. But they are surrounded
by the incessant agitation of parties, which attempt to gain
their co-operation and to avail themselves of their support.
Chapter X: Parties In The United States

In America the people appoints the legislative and the executive power, and furnishes the jurors who punish all of196

Chapter Summary
Great distinction to be made between parties Parties which
are to each other as rival nations Parties properly so called
Difference between great and small parties Epochs which
produce them Their characteristics America has had great
parties They are extinct Federalists Republicans Defeat of the Federalists Difficulty of creating parties in the
United States What is done with this intention Aristocratic or democratic character to be met with in all parties
Struggle of General Jackson against the Bank.
Parties In The United States
A great distinction must be made between parties. Some
countries are so large that the different populations which
inhabit them have contradictory interests, although they are
the subjects of the same Government, and they may thence
be in a perpetual state of opposition. In this case the different fractions of the people may more properly be considered
as distinct nations than as mere parties; and if a civil war

breaks out, the struggle is carried on by rival peoples rather

than by factions in the State.
But when the citizens entertain different opinions upon
subjects which affect the whole country alike, such, for instance, as the principles upon which the government is to be
conducted, then distinctions arise which may correctly be
styled parties. Parties are a necessary evil in free governments;
but they have not at all times the same character and the
same propensities.
At certain periods a nation may be oppressed by such insupportable evils as to conceive the design of effecting a total
change in its political constitution; at other times the mischief lies still deeper, and the existence of society itself is
endangered. Such are the times of great revolutions and of
great parties. But between these epochs of misery and of confusion there are periods during which human society seems
to rest, and mankind to make a pause. This pause is, indeed,
only apparent, for time does not stop its course for nations
any more than for men; they are all advancing towards a
goal with which they are unacquainted; and we only imagine them to be stationary when their progress escapes our

Democracy in America
observation, as men who are going at a foot-pace seem to be
standing still to those who run.
But however this may be, there are certain epochs at which
the changes that take place in the social and political constitution of nations are so slow and so insensible that men imagine
their present condition to be a final state; and the human mind,
believing itself to be firmly based upon certain foundations,
does not extend its researches beyond the horizon which it
descries. These are the times of small parties and of intrigue.
The political parties which I style great are those which
cling to principles more than to their consequences; to general, and not to especial cases; to ideas, and not to men. These
parties are usually distinguished by a nobler character, by
more generous passions, more genuine convictions, and a
more bold and open conduct than the others. In them private interest, which always plays the chief part in political
passions, is more studiously veiled under the pretext of the
public good; and it may even be sometimes concealed from
the eyes of the very persons whom it excites and impels.
Minor parties are, on the other hand, generally deficient in
political faith. As they are not sustained or dignified by a lofty

purpose, they ostensibly display the egotism of their character

in their actions. They glow with a factitious zeal; their language is vehement, but their conduct is timid and irresolute.
The means they employ are as wretched as the end at which
they aim. Hence it arises that when a calm state of things succeeds a violent revolution, the leaders of society seem suddenly to disappear, and the powers of the human mind to lie
concealed. Society is convulsed by great parties, by minor ones
it is agitated; it is torn by the former, by the latter it is degraded; and if these sometimes save it by a salutary perturbation, those invariably disturb it to no good end.
America has already lost the great parties which once divided the nation; and if her happiness is considerably increased, her morality has suffered by their extinction. When
the War of Independence was terminated, and the foundations of the new Government were to be laid down, the nation was divided between two opinions two opinions which
are as old as the world, and which are perpetually to be met
with under all the forms and all the names which have ever
obtained in free communities the one tending to limit, the
other to extend indefinitely, the power of the people. The

conflict of these two opinions never assumed that degree of
violence in America which it has frequently displayed elsewhere. Both parties of the Americans were, in fact, agreed
upon the most essential points; and neither of them had to
destroy a traditionary constitution, or to overthrow the structure of society, in order to ensure its own triumph. In neither of them, consequently, were a great number of private
interests affected by success or by defeat; but moral principles of a high order, such as the love of equality and of
independence, were concerned in the struggle, and they sufficed to kindle violent passions.
The party which desired to limit the power of the people
endeavored to apply its doctrines more especially to the Constitution of the Union, whence it derived its name of Federal. The other party, which affected to be more exclusively
attached to the cause of liberty, took that of Republican.
America is a land of democracy, and the Federalists were always in a minority; but they reckoned on their side almost
all the great men who had been called forth by the War of
Independence, and their moral influence was very considerable. Their cause was, moreover, favored by circumstances.
The ruin of the Confederation had impressed the people
with a dread of anarchy, and the Federalists did not fail to

profit by this transient disposition of the multitude. For ten

or twelve years they were at the head of affairs, and they were
able to apply some, though not all, of their principles; for
the hostile current was becoming from day to day too violent to be checked or stemmed. In 1801 the Republicans got
possession of the Government; Thomas Jefferson was named
President; and he increased the influence of their party by
the weight of his celebrity, the greatness of his talents, and
the immense extent of his popularity.
The means by which the Federalists had maintained their
position were artificial, and their resources were temporary;
it was by the virtues or the talents of their leaders that they
had risen to power. When the Republicans attained to that
lofty station, their opponents were overwhelmed by utter
defeat. An immense majority declared itself against the retiring party, and the Federalists found themselves in so small a
minority that they at once despaired of their future success.
From that moment the Republican or Democratic party*
has proceeded from conquest to conquest, until it has ac*It is scarcely necessary to remark that in more recent times
the signification of these terms has changed. The Republicans are the representatives of the old Federalists, and the
Democrats of the old Republicans. Trans. Note (1861).


Democracy in America
quired absolute supremacy in the country. The Federalists,
perceiving that they were vanquished without resource, and
isolated in the midst of the nation, fell into two divisions, of
which one joined the victorious Republicans, and the other
abandoned its rallying-point and its name. Many years have
already elapsed since they ceased to exist as a party.
The accession of the Federalists to power was, in my opinion, one of the most fortunate incidents which accompanied the formation of the great American Union; they resisted the inevitable propensities of their age and of the country. But whether their theories were good or bad, they had
the effect of being inapplicable, as a system, to the society
which they professed to govern, and that which occurred
under the auspices of Jefferson must therefore have taken
place sooner or later. But their Government gave the new
republic time to acquire a certain stability, and afterwards to
support the rapid growth of the very doctrines which they
had combated. A considerable number of their principles
were in point of fact embodied in the political creed of their
opponents; and the Federal Constitution which subsists at
the present day is a lasting monument of their patriotism

and their wisdom.

Great political parties are not, then, to be met with in the
United States at the present time. Parties, indeed, may be found
which threaten the future tranquillity of the Union; but there
are none which seem to contest the present form of Government or the present course of society. The parties by which
the Union is menaced do not rest upon abstract principles,
but upon temporal interests. These interests, disseminated in
the provinces of so vast an empire, may be said to constitute
rival nations rather than parties. Thus, upon a recent occasion, the North contended for the system of commercial prohibition, and the South took up arms in favor of free trade,
simply because the North is a manufacturing and the South
an agricultural district; and that the restrictive system which
was profitable to the one was prejudicial to the other.*
In the absence of great parties, the United States abound
with lesser controversies; and public opinion is divided into
a thousand minute shades of difference upon questions of
*The divisions of North and South have since acquired a far
greater degree of intensity, and the South, though conquered,
still presents a formidable spirit of opposition to Northern
government. Translators Note, 1875.

very little moment. The pains which are taken to create parties are inconceivable, and at the present day it is no easy
task. In the United States there is no religious animosity,
because all religion is respected, and no sect is predominant;
there is no jealousy of rank, because the people is everything,
and none can contest its authority; lastly, there is no public
indigence to supply the means of agitation, because the physical position of the country opens so wide a field to industry
that man is able to accomplish the most surprising undertakings with his own native resources. Nevertheless, ambitious men are interbsted in the creation of parties, since it is
difficult to eject a person from authority upon the mere
ground that his place is coveted by others. The skill of the
actors in the political world lies therefore in the art of creating parties. A political aspirant in the United States begins
by discriminating his own interest, and by calculating upon
those interests which may be collected around and amalgamated with it; he then contrives to discover some doctrine
or some principle which may suit the purposes of this new
association, and which he adopts in order to bring forward
his party and to secure his popularity; just as the imprimatur

of a King was in former days incorporated with the volume

which it authorized, but to which it nowise belonged. When
these preliminaries are terminated, the new party is ushered
into the political world.
All the domestic controversies of the Americans at first
appear to a stranger to be so incomprehensible and so puerile that he is at a loss whether to pity a people which takes
such arrant trifles in good earnest, or to envy the happiness
which enables it to discuss them. But when he comes to study
the secret propensities which govern the factions of America,
he easily perceives that the greater part of them are more or
less connected with one or the other of those two divisions
which have always existed in free communities. The deeper
we penetrate into the working of these parties, the more do
we perceive that the object of the one is to limit, and that of
the other to extend, the popular authority. I do not assert
that the ostensible end, or even that the secret aim, of American parties is to promote the rule of aristocracy or democracy in the country; but I affirm that aristocratic or democratic passions may easily be detected at the bottom of all
parties, and that, although they escape a superficial observa201

Democracy in America
tion, they are the main point and the very soul of every faction in the United States.
To quote a recent example. When the President attacked
the Bank, the country was excited and parties were formed;
the well-informed classes rallied round the Bank, the common people round the President. But it must not be imagined that the people had formed a rational opinion upon a
question which offers so many difficulties to the most experienced statesmen. The Bank is a great establishment which
enjoys an independent existence, and the people, accustomed
to make and unmake whatsoever it pleases, is startled to meet
with this obstacle to its authority. In the midst of the perpetual fluctuation of society the community is irritated by
so permanent an institution, and is led to attack it in order
to see whether it can be shaken and controlled, like all the
other institutions of the country.
Remains of the Aristocratic Party in the United States
Secret opposition of wealthy individuals to democracy Their
retirement Their taste for exclusive pleasures and for luxury

at home Their simplicity abroad Their affected condescension towards the people.
It sometimes happens in a people amongst which various opinions prevail that the balance of the several parties is lost, and
one of them obtains an irresistible preponderance, overpowers all obstacles, harasses its opponents, and appropriates all
the resources of society to its own purposes. The vanquished
citizens despair of success and they conceal their dissatisfaction in silence and in general apathy. The nation seems to be
governed by a single principle, and the prevailing party assumes the credit of having restored peace and unanimity to
the country. But this apparent unanimity is merely a cloak to
alarming dissensions and perpetual opposition.
This is precisely what occurred in America; when the democratic party got the upper hand, it took exclusive possession
of the conduct of affairs, and from that time the laws and
the customs of society have been adapted to its caprices. At
the present day the more affluent classes of society are so
entirely removed from the direction of political affairs in the
United States that wealth, far from conferring a right to the

exercise of power, is rather an obstacle than a means of attaining to it. The wealthy members of the community abandon the lists, through unwillingness to contend, and frequently to contend in vain, against the poorest classes of
their fellow citizens. They concentrate all their enjoyments
in the privacy of their homes, where they occupy a rank which
cannot be assumed in public; and they constitute a private
society in the State, which has its own tastes and its own
pleasures. They submit to this state of things as an irremediable evil, but they are careful not to show that they are galled
by its continuance; it is even not uncommon to hear them
laud the delights of a republican government, and the advantages of democratic institutions when they are in public.
Next to hating their enemies, men are most inclined to flatter them.
Mark, for instance, that opulent citizen, who is as anxious
as a Jew of the Middle Ages to conceal his wealth. His dress
is plain, his demeanor unassuming; but the interior of his
dwelling glitters with luxury, and none but a few chosen guests
whom he haughtily styles his equals are allowed to penetrate
into this sanctuary. No European noble is more exclusive in

his pleasures, or more jealous of the smallest advantages which

his privileged station confers upon him. But the very same
individual crosses the city to reach a dark counting-house in
the centre of traffic, where every one may accost him who
pleases. If he meets his cobbler upon the way, they stop and
converse; the two citizens discuss the affairs of the State in
which they have an equal interest, and they shake hands before they part.
But beneath this artificial enthusiasm, and these obsequious attentions to the preponderating power, it is easy to perceive that the wealthy members of the community entertain
a hearty distaste to the democratic institutions of their country. The populace is at once the object of their scorn and of
their fears. If the maladministration of the democracy ever
brings about a revolutionary crisis, and if monarchical institutions ever become practicable in the United States, the truth
of what I advance will become obvious.
The two chief weapons which parties use in order to ensure success are the public press and the formation of associations.


Democracy in America

Chapter XI: Liberty of the Press in the United States

Chapter Summary
Difficulty of restraining the liberty of the press Particular
reasons which some nations have to cherish this liberty
The liberty of the press a necessary consequence of the sovereignty of the people as it is understood in America Violent language of the periodical press in the United States
Propensities of the periodical press Illustrated by the United
States -Opinion of the Americans upon the repression of the
abuse of the liberty of the press by judicial prosecutions
Reasons for which the press is less powerful in America than
in France.
Liberty Of The Press In The United States
The influence of the liberty of the press does not affect political opinions alone, but it extends to all the opinions of men,
and it modifies customs as well as laws. In another part of this
work I shall attempt to determinate the degree of influence

which the liberty of the press has exercised upon civil society
in the United States, and to point out the direction which it
has given to the ideas, as well as the tone which it has imparted to the character and the feelings, of the Anglo-Americans, but at present I purpose simply to examine the effects
produced by the liberty of the press in the political world.
I confess that I do not entertain that firm and complete
attachment to the liberty of the press which things that are
supremely good in their very nature are wont to excite in the
mind; and I approve of it more from a recollection of the
evils it prevents than from a consideration of the advantages
it ensures.
If any one could point out an intermediate and yet a tenable position between the complete independence and the
entire subjection of the public expression of opinion, I should
perhaps be inclined to adopt it; but the difficulty is to discover this position. If it is your intention to correct the abuses
of unlicensed printing and to restore the use of orderly language, you may in the first instance try the offender by a
jury; but if the jury acquits him, the opinion which was that
of a single individual becomes the opinion of the country at

large. Too much and too little has therefore hitherto been
done. If you proceed, you must bring the delinquent before
a court of permanent judges. But even here the cause must
be heard before it can be decided; and the very principles
which no book would have ventured to avow are blazoned
forth in the pleadings, and what was obscurely hinted at in a
single composition is then repeated in a multitude of other
publications. The language in which a thought is embodied
is the mere carcass of the thought, and not the idea itself;
tribunals may condemn the form, but the sense and spirit of
the work is too subtle for their authority. Too much has still
been done to recede, too little to attain your end; you must
therefore proceed. If you establish a censorship of the press,
the tongue of the public speaker will still make itself heard,
and you have only increased the mischief. The powers of
thought do not rely, like the powers of physical strength,
upon the number of their mechanical agents, nor can a host
of authors be reckoned like the troops which compose an
army; on the contrary, the authority of a principle is often
increased by the smallness of the number of men by whom
it is expressed. The words of a strong-minded man, which

penetrate amidst the passions of a listening assembly, have

more power than the vociferations of a thousand orators;
and if it be allowed to speak freely in any public place, the
consequence is the same as if free speaking was allowed in
every village. The liberty of discourse must therefore be destroyed as well as the liberty of the press; this is the necessary
term of your efforts; but if your object was to repress the
abuses of liberty, they have brought you to the feet of a despot. You have been led from the extreme of independence to
the extreme of subjection without meeting with a single tenable position for shelter or repose.
There are certain nations which have peculiar reasons for
cherishing the liberty of the press, independently of the general motives which I have just pointed out. For in certain
countries which profess to enjoy the privileges of freedom
every individual agent of the Government may violate the
laws with impunity, since those whom he oppresses cannot
prosecute him before the courts of justice. In this case the
liberty of the press is not merely a guarantee, but it is the
only guarantee, of their liberty and their security which the
citizens possess. If the rulers of these nations propose to abol205

Democracy in America
ish the independence of the press, the people would be justified in saying: Give us the right of prosecuting your offences
before the ordinary tribunals, and perhaps we may then waive
our right of appeal to the tribunal of public opinion.
But in the countries in which the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people ostensibly prevails, the censorship of
the press is not only dangerous, but it is absurd. When the
right of every citizen to co-operate in the government of society is acknowledged, every citizen must be presumed to
possess the power of discriminating between the different
opinions of his contemporaries, and of appreciating the different facts from which inferences may be drawn. The sovereignty of the people and the liberty of the press may therefore be looked upon as correlative institutions; just as the
censorship of the press and universal suffrage are two things
which are irreconcilably opposed, and which cannot long be
retained among the institutions of the same people. Not a
single individual of the twelve millions who inhabit the territory of the United States has as yet dared to propose any
restrictions to the liberty of the press. The first newspaper
over which I cast my eyes, upon my arrival in America, con-

tained the following article:

In all this affair the language of Jackson has been that of a
heartless despot, solely occupied with the preservation of his
own authority. Ambition is his crime, and it will be his punishment too: intrigue is his native element, and intrigue will
confound his tricks, and will deprive him of his power: he
governs by means of corruption, and his immoral practices
will redound to his shame and confusion. His conduct in
the political arena has been that of a shameless and lawless
gamester. He succeeded at the time, but the hour of retribution approaches, and he will be obliged to disgorge his winnings, to throw aside his false dice, and to end his days in
some retirement, where he may curse his madness at his leisure; for repentance is a virtue with which his heart is likely
to remain forever unacquainted.
It is not uncommonly imagined in France that the virulence of the press originates in the uncertain social condition, in the political excitement, and the general sense of
consequent evil which prevail in that country; and it is therefore supposed that as soon as society has resumed a certain
degree of composure the press will abandon its present vehe206

mence. I am inclined to think that the above causes explain
the reason of the extraordinary ascendency it has acquired
over the nation, but that they do not exercise much influence upon the tone of its language. The periodical press appears to me to be actuated by passions and propensities independent of the circumstances in which it is placed, and
the present position of America corroborates this opinion.
America is perhaps, at this moment, the country of the
whole world which contains the fewest germs of revolution;
but the press is not less destructive in its principles than in
France, and it displays the same violence without the same
reasons for indignation. In America, as in France, it constitutes a singular power, so strangely composed of mingled
good and evil that it is at the same time indispensable to the
existence of freedom, and nearly incompatible with the maintenance of public order. Its power is certainly much greater
in France than in the United States; though nothing is more
rare in the latter country than to hear of a prosecution having been instituted against it. The reason of this is perfectly
simple: the Americans, having once admitted the doctrine
of the sovereignty of the people, apply it with perfect consis-

tency. It was never their intention to found a permanent state

of things with elements which undergo daily modifications;
and there is consequently nothing criminal in an attack upon
the existing laws, provided it be not attended with a violent
infraction of them. They are moreover of opinion that courts
of justice are unable to check the abuses of the press; and
that as the subtilty of human language perpetually eludes
the severity of judicial analysis, offences of this nature are
apt to escape the hand which attempts to apprehend them.
They hold that to act with efficacy upon the press it would
be necessary to find a tribunal, not only devoted to the existing order of things, but capable of surmounting the influence of public opinion; a tribunal which should conduct its
proceedings without publicity, which should pronounce its
decrees without assigning its motives, and punish the intentions even more than the language of an author. Whosoever
should have the power of creating and maintaining a tribunal of this kind would waste his time in prosecuting the liberty of the press; for he would be the supreme master of the
whole community, and he would be as free to rid himself of
the authors as of their writings. In this question, therefore,


Democracy in America
there is no medium between servitude and extreme license;
in order to enjoy the inestimable benefits which the liberty
of the press ensures, it is necessary to submit to the inevitable evils which it engenders. To expect to acquire the former
and to escape the latter is to cherish one of those illusions
which commonly mislead nations in their times of sickness,
when, tired with faction and exhausted by effort, they attempt to combine hostile opinions and contrary principles
upon the same soil.
The small influence of the American journals is attributable to several reasons, amongst which are the following:
The liberty of writing, like all other liberty, is most formidable when it is a novelty; for a people which has never been
accustomed to co-operate in the conduct of State affairs places
implicit confidence in the first tribune who arouses its attention. The Anglo-Americans have enjoyed this liberty ever
since the foundation of the settlements; moreover, the press
cannot create human passions by its own power, however
skillfully it may kindle them where they exist. In America
politics are discussed with animation and a varied activity,
but they rarely touch those deep passions which are excited

whenever the positive interest of a part of the community is

impaired: but in the United States the interests of the community are in a most prosperous condition. A single glance
upon a French and an American newspaper is sufficient to
show the difference which exists between the two nations on
this head. In France the space allotted to commercial advertisements is very limited, and the intelligence is not considerable, but the most essential part of the journal is that which
contains the discussion of the politics of the day. In America
three-quarters of the enormous sheet which is set before the
reader are filled with advertisements, and the remainder is
frequently occupied by political intelligence or trivial anecdotes: it is only from time to time that one finds a corner
devoted to passionate discussions like those with which the
journalists of France are wont to indulge their readers.
It has been demonstrated by observation, and discovered
by the innate sagacity of the pettiest as well as the greatest of
despots, that the influence of a power is increased in proportion as its direction is rendered more central. In France the
press combines a twofold centralization; almost all its power
is centred in the same spot, and vested in the same hands,

for its organs are far from numerous. The influence of a public
press thus constituted, upon a sceptical nation, must be unbounded. It is an enemy with which a Government may sign
an occasional truce, but which it is difficult to resist for any
length of time.
Neither of these kinds of centralization exists in America.
The United States have no metropolis; the intelligence as
well as the power of the country are dispersed abroad, and
instead of radiating from a point, they cross each other in
every direction; the Americans have established no central
control over the expression of opinion, any more than over
the conduct of business. These are circumstances which do
not depend on human foresight; but it is owing to the laws
of the Union that there are no licenses to be granted to printers, no securities demanded from editors as in France, and
no stamp duty as in France and formerly in England. The
consequence of this is that nothing is easier than to set up a
newspaper, and a small number of readers suffices to defray
the expenses of the editor.
The number of periodical and occasional publications
which appears in the United States actually surpasses belief.

The most enlightened Americans attribute the subordinate

influence of the press to this excessive dissemination; and it
is adopted as an axiom of political science in that country
that the only way to neutralize the effect of public journals is
to multiply them indefinitely. I cannot conceive that a truth
which is so self-evident should not already have been more
generally admitted in Europe; it is comprehensible that the
persons who hope to bring about revolutions by means of the
press should be desirous of confining its action to a few powerful organs, but it is perfectly incredible that the partisans of
the existing state of things, and the natural supporters of the
law, should attempt to diminish the influence of the press by
concentrating its authority. The Governments of Europe seem
to treat the press with the courtesy of the knights of old; they
are anxious to furnish it with the same central power which
they have found to be so trusty a weapon, in order to enhance
the glory of their resistance to its attacks.
In America there is scarcely a hamlet which has not its
own newspaper. It may readily be imagined that neither discipline nor unity of design can be communicated to so multifarious a host, and each one is consequently led to fight

Democracy in America
under his own standard. All the political journals of the
United States are indeed arrayed on the side of the administration or against it; but they attack and defend in a thousand different ways. They cannot succeed in forming those
great currents of opinion which overwhelm the most solid
obstacles. This division of the influence of the press produces a variety of other consequences which are scarcely less
remarkable. The facility with which journals can be established induces a multitude of individuals to take a part in
them; but as the extent of competition precludes the possibility of considerable profit, the most distinguished classes
of society are rarely led to engage in these undertakings. But
such is the number of the public prints that, even if they
were a source of wealth, writers of ability could not be found
to direct them all. The journalists of the United States are
usually placed in a very humble position, with a scanty education and a vulgar turn of mind. The will of the majority is
the most general of laws, and it establishes certain habits
which form the characteristics of each peculiar class of society; thus it dictates the etiquette practised at courts and the
etiquette of the bar. The characteristics of the French jour-

nalist consist in a violent, but frequently an eloquent and

lofty, manner of discussing the politics of the day; and the
exceptions to this habitual practice are only occasional. The
characteristics of the American journalist consist in an open
and coarse appeal to the passions of the populace; and he
habitually abandons the principles of political science to assail the characters of individuals, to track them into private
life, and disclose all their weaknesses and errors.
Nothing can be more deplorable than this abuse of the
powers of thought; I shall have occasion to point out hereafter the influence of the newspapers upon the taste and the
morality of the American people, but my present subject exclusively concerns the political world. It cannot be denied
that the effects of this extreme license of the press tend indirectly to the maintenance of public order. The individuals
who are already in the possession of a high station in the
esteem of their fellow-citizens are afraid to write in the newspapers, and they are thus deprived of the most powerful instrument which they can use to excite the passions of the
multitude to their own advantage.*
*They only write in the papers when they choose to address
the people in their own name; as, for instance, when they are
called upon to repel calumnious imputations, and to correct
a misstatement of facts.

The personal opinions of the editors have no kind of weight
in the eyes of the public: the only use of a journal is, that it
imparts the knowledge of certain facts, and it is only by altering or distorting those facts that a journalist can contribute to the support of his own views.
But although the press is limited to these resources, its influence in America is immense. It is the power which impels
the circulation of political life through all the districts of that
vast territory. Its eye is constantly open to detect the secret
springs of political designs, and to summon the leaders of all
parties to the bar of public opinion. It rallies the interests of
the community round certain principles, and it draws up the
creed which factions adopt; for it affords a means of intercourse between parties which hear, and which address each
other without ever having been in immediate contact. When
a great number of the organs of the press adopt the same line
of conduct, their influence becomes irresistible; and public
opinion, when it is perpetually assailed from the same side,
eventually yields to the attack. In the United States each separate journal exercises but little authority, but the power of the
periodical press is only second to that of the people.*
*See Appendix, P.

The opinions established in the United States under the

empire of the liberty of the press are frequently more firmly
rooted than those which are formed elsewhere under the sanction of a censor.
In the United States the democracy perpetually raises fresh
individuals to the conduct of public affairs; and the measures of the administration are consequently seldom regulated by the strict rules of consistency or of order. But the
general principles of the Government are more stable, and
the opinions most prevalent in society are generally more
durable than in many other countries. When once the Americans have taken up an idea, whether it be well or ill founded,
nothing is more difficult than to eradicate it from their minds.
The same tenacity of opinion has been observed in England,
where, for the last century, greater freedom of conscience
and more invincible prejudices have existed than in all the
other countries of Europe. I attribute this consequence to a
cause which may at first sight appear to have a very opposite
tendency, namely, to the liberty of the press. The nations
amongst which this liberty exists are as apt to cling to their
opinions from pride as from conviction. They cherish them

Democracy in America
because they hold them to be just, and because they exercised their own free-will in choosing them; and they maintain them not only because they are true, but because they
are their own. Several other reasons conduce to the same
It was remarked by a man of genius that ignorance lies at
the two ends of knowledge. Perhaps it would have been
more correct to have said, that absolute convictions are to be
met with at the two extremities, and that doubt lies in the
middle; for the human intellect may be considered in three
distinct states, which frequently succeed one another. A man
believes implicitly, because he adopts a proposition without
inquiry. He doubts as soon as he is assailed by the objections
which his inquiries may have aroused. But he frequently succeeds in satisfying these doubts, and then he begins to believe afresh: he no longer lays hold on a truth in its most
shadowy and uncertain form, but he sees it clearly before
him, and he advances onwards by the light it gives him.*
*It may, however, be doubted whether this rational and selfguiding conviction arouses as much fervor or enthusiastic
devotedness in men as their first dogmatical belief.

When the liberty of the press acts upon men who are in
the first of these three states, it does not immediately disturb
their habit of believing implicitly without investigation, but
it constantly modifies the objects of their intuitive convictions. The human mind continues to discern but one point
upon the whole intellectual horizon, and that point is in
continual motion. Such are the symptoms of sudden revolutions, and of the misfortunes which are sure to befall those
generations which abruptly adopt the unconditional freedom of the press.
The circle of novel ideas is, however, soon terminated; the
touch of experience is upon them, and the doubt and mistrust which their uncertainty produces become universal. We
may rest assured that the majority of mankind will either
believe they know not wherefore, or will not know what to
believe. Few are the beings who can ever hope to attain to
that state of rational and independent conviction which true
knowledge can beget in defiance of the attacks of doubt.
It has been remarked that in times of great religious fervor
men sometimes change their religious opinions; whereas in
times of general scepticism everyone clings to his own per212

suasion. The same thing takes place in politics under the
liberty of the press. In countries where all the theories of
social science have been contested in their turn, the citizens
who have adopted one of them stick to it, not so much because they are assured of its excellence, as because they are
not convinced of the superiority of any other. In the present
age men are not very ready to die in defence of their opinions, but they are rarely inclined to change them; and there
are fewer martyrs as well as fewer apostates.
Another still more valid reason may yet be adduced: when
no abstract opinions are looked upon as certain, men cling
to the mere propensities and external interests of their position, which are naturally more tangible and more permanent than any opinions in the world.
It is not a question of easy solution whether aristocracy or
democracy is most fit to govern a country. But it is certain
that democracy annoys one part of the community, and that
aristocracy oppresses another part. When the question is reduced to the simple expression of the struggle between poverty and wealth, the tendency of each side of the dispute
becomes perfectly evident without further controversy.

Chapter XII: Political Associations in the United States

Chapter Summary
Daily use which the Anglo-Americans make of the right of
association Three kinds of political associations In what
manner the Americans apply the representative system to
associations Dangers resulting to the State Great Convention of 1831 relative to the Tariff Legislative character
of this Convention Why the unlimited exercise of the right
of association is less dangerous in the United States than elsewhere Why it may be looked upon as necessary Utility of
associations in a democratic people.
Political Associations In The United States
In no country in the world has the principle of association
been more successfully used, or more unsparingly applied to
a multitude of different objects, than in America. Besides
the permanent associations which are established by law
under the names of townships, cities, and counties, a vast

Democracy in America
number of others are formed and maintained by the agency
of private individuals.
The citizen of the United States is taught from his earliest
infancy to rely upon his own exertions in order to resist the
evils and the difficulties of life; he looks upon social authority with an eye of mistrust and anxiety, and he only claims
its assistance when he is quite unable to shift without it. This
habit may even be traced in the schools of the rising generation, where the children in their games are wont to submit
to rules which they have themselves established, and to punish misdemeanors which they have themselves defined. The
same spirit pervades every act of social life. If a stoppage
occurs in a thoroughfare, and the circulation of the public is
hindered, the neighbors immediately constitute a deliberative body; and this extemporaneous assembly gives rise to an
executive power which remedies the inconvenience before
anybody has thought of recurring to an authority superior
to that of the persons immediately concerned. If the public
pleasures are concerned, an association is formed to provide
for the splendor and the regularity of the entertainment. Societies are formed to resist enemies which are exclusively of a

moral nature, and to diminish the vice of intemperance: in

the United States associations are established to promote
public order, commerce, industry, morality, and religion; for
there is no end which the human will, seconded by the collective exertions of individuals, despairs of attaining.
I shall hereafter have occasion to show the effects of association upon the course of society, and I must confine myself for the present to the political world. When once the
right of association is recognized, the citizens may employ it
in several different ways.
An association consists simply in the public assent which a
number of individuals give to certain doctrines, and in the
engagement which they contract to promote the spread of
those doctrines by their exertions. The right of association
with these views is very analogous to the liberty of unlicensed
writing; but societies thus formed possess more authority
than the press. When an opinion is represented by a society,
it necessarily assumes a more exact and explicit form. It numbers its partisans, and compromises their welfare in its cause:
they, on the other hand, become acquainted with each other,
and their zeal is increased by their number. An association

unites the efforts of minds which have a tendency to diverge
in one single channel, and urges them vigorously towards
one single end which it points out.
The second degree in the right of association is the power
of meeting. When an association is allowed to establish centres of action at certain important points in the country, its
activity is increased and its influence extended. Men have
the opportunity of seeing each other; means of execution are
more readily combined, and opinions are maintained with a
degree of warmth and energy which written language cannot approach.
Lastly, in the exercise of the right of political association,
there is a third degree: the partisans of an opinion may unite
in electoral bodies, and choose delegates to represent them
in a central assembly. This is, properly speaking, the application of the representative system to a party.
Thus, in the first instance, a society is formed between individuals professing the same opinion, and the tie which keeps
it together is of a purely intellectual nature; in the second case,
small assemblies are formed which only represent a fraction of
the party. Lastly, in the third case, they constitute a separate

nation in the midst of the nation, a government within the

Government. Their delegates, like the real delegates of the
majority, represent the entire collective force of their party;
and they enjoy a certain degree of that national dignity and
great influence which belong to the chosen representatives of
the people. It is true that they have not the right of making the
laws, but they have the power of attacking those which are in
being, and of drawing up beforehand those which they may
afterwards cause to be adopted.
If, in a people which is imperfectly accustomed to the exercise of freedom, or which is exposed to violent political
passions, a deliberating minority, which confines itself to the
contemplation of future laws, be placed in juxtaposition to
the legislative majority, I cannot but believe that public tranquillity incurs very great risks in that nation. There is doubtless a very wide difference between proving that one law is in
itself better than another and proving that the former ought
to be substituted for the latter. But the imagination of the
populace is very apt to overlook this difference, which is so
apparent to the minds of thinking men. It sometimes happens that a nation is divided into two nearly equal parties,

Democracy in America
each of which affects to represent the majority. If, in immediate contiguity to the directing power, another power be
established, which exercises almost as much moral authority
as the former, it is not to be believed that it will long be
content to speak without acting; or that it will always be
restrained by the abstract consideration of the nature of associations which are meant to direct but not to enforce opinions, to suggest but not to make the laws.
The more we consider the independence of the press in its
principal consequences, the more are we convinced that it is
the chief and, so to speak, the constitutive element of freedom in the modern world. A nation which is determined to
remain free is therefore right in demanding the unrestrained
exercise of this independence. But the unrestrained liberty
of political association cannot be entirely assimilated to the
liberty of the press. The one is at the same time less necessary and more dangerous than the other. A nation may confine it within certain limits without forfeiting any part of its
self-control; and it may sometimes be obliged to do so in
order to maintain its own authority.
In America the liberty of association for political purposes

is unbounded. An example will show in the clearest light to

what an extent this privilege is tolerated.
The question of the tariff, or of free trade, produced a great
manifestation of party feeling in America; the tariff was not
only a subject of debate as a matter of opinion, but it exercised
a favorable or a prejudicial influence upon several very powerful interests of the States. The North attributed a great portion of its prosperity, and the South all its sufferings, to this
system; insomuch that for a long time the tariff was the sole
source of the political animosities which agitated the Union.
In 1831, when the dispute was raging with the utmost
virulence, a private citizen of Massachusetts proposed to all
the enemies of the tariff, by means of the public prints, to
send delegates to Philadelphia in order to consult together
upon the means which were most fitted to promote freedom
of trade. This proposal circulated in a few days from Maine
to New Orleans by the power of the printing-press: the opponents of the tariff adopted it with enthusiasm; meetings
were formed on all sides, and delegates were named. The
majority of these individuals were well known, and some of
them had earned a considerable degree of celebrity. South

Carolina alone, which afterwards took up arms in the same
cause, sent sixty-three delegates. On October 1, 1831, this
assembly, which according to the American custom had taken
the name of a Convention, met at Philadelphia; it consisted
of more than two hundred members. Its debates were public, and they at once assumed a legislative character; the extent of the powers of Congress, the theories of free trade,
and the different clauses of the tariff, were discussed in turn.
At the end of ten days deliberation the Convention broke
up, after having published an address to the American people,
in which it declared:
I. That Congress had not the right of making a tariff, and
that the existing tariff was unconstitutional;
II. That the prohibition of free trade was prejudicial to the
interests of all nations, and to that of the American people in
It must be acknowledged that the unrestrained liberty of
political association has not hitherto produced, in the United

States, those fatal consequences which might perhaps be expected from it elsewhere. The right of association was imported from England, and it has always existed in America;
so that the exercise of this privilege is now amalgamated with
the manners and customs of the people. At the present time
the liberty of association is become a necessary guarantee
against the tyranny of the majority. In the United States, as
soon as a party is become preponderant, all public authority
passes under its control; its private supporters occupy all the
places, and have all the force of the administration at their
disposal. As the most distinguished partisans of the other
side of the question are unable to surmount the obstacles
which exclude them from power, they require some means
of establishing themselves upon their own basis, and of opposing the moral authority of the minority to the physical
power which domineers over it. Thus a dangerous expedient
is used to obviate a still more formidable danger.
The omnipotence of the majority appears to me to present
such extreme perils to the American Republics that the dangerous measure which is used to repress it seems to be more
advantageous than prejudicial. And here I am about to ad217

Democracy in America
vance a proposition which may remind the reader of what I
said before in speaking of municipal freedom: There are no
countries in which associations are more needed, to prevent
the despotism of faction or the arbitrary power of a prince,
than those which are democratically constituted. In aristocratic nations the body of the nobles and the more opulent
part of the community are in themselves natural associations,
which act as checks upon the abuses of power. In countries
in which these associations do not exist, if private individuals are unable to create an artificial and a temporary substitute for them, I can imagine no permanent protection against
the most galling tyranny; and a great people may be oppressed
by a small faction, or by a single individual, with impunity.
The meeting of a great political Convention (for there are
Conventions of all kinds), which may frequently become a
necessary measure, is always a serious occurrence, even in
America, and one which is never looked forward to, by the
judicious friends of the country, without alarm. This was
very perceptible in the Convention of 1831, at which the
exertions of all the most distinguished members of the Assembly tended to moderate its language, and to restrain the

subjects which it treated within certain limits. It is probable,

in fact, that the Convention of 1831 exercised a very great
influence upon the minds of the malcontents, and prepared
them for the open revolt against the commercial laws of the
Union which took place in 1832.
It cannot be denied that the unrestrained liberty of association for political purposes is the privilege which a people is
longest in learning how to exercise. If it does not throw the
nation into anarchy, it perpetually augments the chances of
that calamity. On one point, however, this perilous liberty offers a security against dangers of another kind; in countries
where associations are free, secret societies are unknown. In
America there are numerous factions, but no conspiracies.
Different ways in which the right of association is understood in Europeand in the United States Different use which
is made of it.
The most natural privilege of man, next to the right of
acting for himself, is that of combining his exertions with
those of his fellow-creatures, and of acting in common with
them. I am therefore led to conclude that the right of association is almost as inalienable as the right of personal lib218

erty. No legislator can attack it without impairing the very
foundations of society. Nevertheless, if the liberty of association is a fruitful source of advantages and prosperity to some
nations, it may be perverted or carried to excess by others,
and the element of life may be changed into an element of
destruction. A comparison of the different methods which
associations pursue in those countries in which they are managed with discretion, as well as in those where liberty degenerates into license, may perhaps be thought useful both to
governments and to parties.
The greater part of Europeans look upon an association as
a weapon which is to be hastily fashioned, and immediately
tried in the conflict. A society is formed for discussion, but
the idea of impending action prevails in the minds of those
who constitute it: it is, in fact, an army; and the time given
to parley serves to reckon up the strength and to animate the
courage of the host, after which they direct their march against
the enemy. Resources which lie within the bounds of the law
may suggest themselves to the persons who compose it as
means, but never as the only means, of success.
Such, however, is not the manner in which the right of

association is understood in the United States. In America

the citizens who form the minority associate, in order, in the
first place, to show their numerical strength, and so to diminish the moral authority of the majority; and, in the second place, to stimulate competition, and to discover those
arguments which are most fitted to act upon the majority;
for they always entertain hopes of drawing over their opponents to their own side, and of afterwards disposing of the
supreme power in their name. Political associations in the
United States are therefore peaceable in their intentions, and
strictly legal in the means which they employ; and they assert with perfect truth that they only aim at success by lawful expedients.
The difference which exists between the Americans and
ourselves depends on several causes. In Europe there are numerous parties so diametrically opposed to the majority that
they can never hope to acquire its support, and at the same
time they think that they are sufficiently strong in themselves to struggle and to defend their cause. When a party of
this kind forms an association, its object is, not to conquer,
but to fight. In America the individuals who hold opinions

Democracy in America
very much opposed to those of the majority are no sort of
impediment to its power, and all other parties hope to win it
over to their own principles in the end. The exercise of the
right of association becomes dangerous in proportion to the
impossibility which excludes great parties from acquiring the
majority. In a country like the United States, in which the
differences of opinion are mere differences of hue, the right
of association may remain unrestrained without evil consequences. The inexperience of many of the European nations
in the enjoyment of liberty leads them only to look upon the
liberty of association as a right of attacking the Government.
The first notion which presents itself to a party, as well as to
an individual, when it has acquired a consciousness of its
own strength, is that of violence: the notion of persuasion
arises at a later period and is only derived from experience.
The English, who are divided into parties which differ most
essentially from each other, rarely abuse the right of association, because they have long been accustomed to exercise it.
In France the passion for war is so intense that there is no
undertaking so mad, or so injurious to the welfare of the
State, that a man does not consider himself honored in de-

fending it, at the risk of his life.

But perhaps the most powerful of the causes which tend
to mitigate the excesses of political association in the United
States is Universal Suffrage. In countries in which universal
suffrage exists the majority is never doubtful, because neither party can pretend to represent that portion of the community which has not voted. The associations which are
formed are aware, as well as the nation at large, that they do
not represent the majority: this is, indeed, a condition inseparable from their existence; for if they did represent the
preponderating power, they would change the law instead of
soliciting its reform. The consequence of this is that the moral
influence of the Government which they attack is very much
increased, and their own power is very much enfeebled.
In Europe there are few associations which do not affect to
represent the majority, or which do not believe that they
represent it. This conviction or this pretension tends to augment their force amazingly, and contributes no less to legalize their measures. Violence may seem to be excusable in
defence of the cause of oppressed right. Thus it is, in the vast
labyrinth of human laws, that extreme liberty sometimes

corrects the abuses of license, and that extreme democracy
obviates the dangers of democratic government. In Europe,
associations consider themselves, in some degree, as the legislative and executive councils of the people, which is unable
to speak for itself. In America, where they only represent a
minority of the nation, they argue and they petition.
The means which the associations of Europe employ are in
accordance with the end which they propose to obtain. As the
principal aim of these bodies is to act, and not to debate, to
fight rather than to persuade, they are naturally led to adopt a
form of organization which differs from the ordinary customs
of civil bodies, and which assumes the habits and the maxims
of military life. They centralize the direction of their resources
as much as possible, and they intrust the power of the whole
party to a very small number of leaders.
The members of these associations respond to a watchword, like soldiers on duty; they profess the doctrine of passive obedience; say rather, that in uniting together they at
once abjure the exercise of their own judgment and free will;
and the tyrannical control which these societies exercise is
often far more insupportable than the authority possessed

over society by the Government which they attack. Their

moral force is much diminished by these excesses, and they
lose the powerful interest which is always excited by a struggle
between oppressors and the oppressed. The man who in given
cases consents to obey his fellows with servility, and who
submits his activity and even his opinions to their control,
can have no claim to rank as a free citizen.
The Americans have also established certain forms of government which are applied to their associations, but these
are invariably borrowed from the forms of the civil administration. The independence of each individual is formally recognized; the tendency of the members of the association
points, as it does in the body of the community, towards the
same end, but they are not obliged to follow the same track.
No one abjures the exercise of his reason and his free will;
but every one exerts that reason and that will for the benefit
of a common undertaking.


Democracy in America

Chapter XIII: Government of the Democracy in

America Part I
I am well aware of the difficulties which attend this part of
my subject, but although every expression which I am about
to make use of may clash, upon some one point, with the
feelings of the different parties which divide my country, I
shall speak my opinion with the most perfect openness.
In Europe we are at a loss how to judge the true character
and the more permanent propensities of democracy, because
in Europe two conflicting principles exist, and we do not
know what to attribute to the principles themselves, and what
to refer to the passions which they bring into collision. Such,
however, is not the case in America; there the people reigns
without any obstacle, and it has no perils to dread and no
injuries to avenge. In America, democracy is swayed by its
own free propensities; its course is natural and its activity is
unrestrained; the United States consequently afford the most
favorable opportunity of studying its real character. And to
no people can this inquiry be more vitally interesting than
to the French nation, which is blindly driven onwards by a

daily and irresistible impulse towards a state of things which

may prove either despotic or republican, but which will assuredly be democratic.
Universal Suffrage
I have already observed that universal suffrage has been
adopted in all the States of the Union; it consequently occurs amongst different populations which occupy very different positions in the scale of society. I have had opportunities of observing its effects in different localities, and amongst
races of men who are nearly strangers to each other by their
language, their religion, and their manner of life; in Louisiana as well as in New England, in Georgia and in Canada. I
have remarked that Universal Suffrage is far from producing
in America either all the good or all the evil consequences
which are assigned to it in Europe, and that its effects differ
very widely from those which are usually attributed to it.


Choice of the People, and Instinctive Preferences of the
American Democracy
In the United States the most able men are rarely placed at
the head of affairs Reason of this peculiarity The envy
which prevails in the lower orders of France against the higher
classes is not a French, but a purely democratic sentiment
For what reason the most distinguished men in America frequently seclude themselves from public affairs.
Many people in Europe are apt to believe without saying it,
or to say without believing it, that one of the great advantages of universal suffrage is, that it entrusts the direction of
public affairs to men who are worthy of the public confidence. They admit that the people is unable to govern for
itself, but they aver that it is always sincerely disposed to
promote the welfare of the State, and that it instinctively
designates those persons who are animated by the same good
wishes, and who are the most fit to wield the supreme authority. I confess that the observations I made in America by
no means coincide with these opinions. On my arrival in the

United States I was surprised to find so much distinguished

talent among the subjects, and so little among the heads of
the Government. It is a well-authenticated fact, that at the
present day the most able men in the United States are very
rarely placed at the head of affairs; and it must be acknowledged that such has been the result in proportion as democracy has outstepped all its former limits. The race of American statesmen has evidently dwindled most remarkably in
the course of the last fifty years.
Several causes may be assigned to this phenomenon. It is
impossible, notwithstanding the most strenuous exertions, to
raise the intelligence of the people above a certain level. Whatever may be the facilities of acquiring information, whatever
may be the profusion of easy methods and of cheap science,
the human mind can never be instructed and educated without devoting a considerable space of time to those objects.
The greater or the lesser possibility of subsisting without
labor is therefore the necessary boundary of intellectual improvement. This boundary is more remote in some countries and more restricted in others; but it must exist somewhere as long as the people is constrained to work in order

Democracy in America
to procure the means of physical subsistence, that is to say,
as long as it retains its popular character. It is therefore quite
as difficult to imagine a State in which all the citizens should
be very well informed as a State in which they should all be
wealthy; these two difficulties may be looked upon as correlative. It may very readily be admitted that the mass of the
citizens are sincerely disposed to promote the welfare of their
country; nay more, it may even be allowed that the lower
classes are less apt to be swayed by considerations of personal interest than the higher orders: but it is always more or
less impossible for them to discern the best means of attaining the end which they desire with sincerity. Long and patient observation, joined to a multitude of different notions,
is required to form a just estimate of the character of a single
individual; and can it be supposed that the vulgar have the
power of succeeding in an inquiry which misleads the penetration of genius itself? The people has neither the time nor
the means which are essential to the prosecution of an investigation of this kind: its conclusions are hastily formed from
a superficial inspection of the more prominent features of a
question. Hence it often assents to the clamor of a mounte-

bank who knows the secret of stimulating its tastes, while its
truest friends frequently fail in their exertions.
Moreover, the democracy is not only deficient in that
soundness of judgment which is necessary to select men really deserving of its confidence, but it has neither the desire
nor the inclination to find them out. It cannot be denied
that democratic institutions have a very strong tendency to
promote the feeling of envy in the human heart; not so much
because they afford to every one the means of rising to the
level of any of his fellow-citizens, as because those means
perpetually disappoint the persons who employ them. Democratic institutions awaken and foster a passion for equality
which they can never entirely satisfy. This complete equality
eludes the grasp of the people at the very moment at which
it thinks to hold it fast, and flies, as Pascal says, with eternal flight; the people is excited in the pursuit of an advantage, which is more precious because it is not sufficiently
remote to be unknown, or sufficiently near to be enjoyed.
The lower orders are agitated by the chance of success, they
are irritated by its uncertainty; and they pass from the enthusiasm of pursuit to the exhaustion of ill-success, and lastly

to the acrimony of disappointment. Whatever transcends
their own limits appears to be an obstacle to their desires,
and there is no kind of superiority, however legitimate it may
be, which is not irksome in their sight.
It has been supposed that the secret instinct which leads
the lower orders to remove their superiors as much as possible from the direction of public affairs is peculiar to France.
This, however, is an error; the propensity to which I allude is
not inherent in any particular nation, but in democratic institutions in general; and although it may have been heightened by peculiar political circumstances, it owes its origin to
a higher cause.
In the United States the people is not disposed to hate the
superior classes of society; but it is not very favorably inclined towards them, and it carefully excludes them from
the exercise of authority. It does not entertain any dread of
distinguished talents, but it is rarely captivated by them; and
it awards its approbation very sparingly to such as have risen
without the popular support.
Whilst the natural propensities of democracy induce the
people to reject the most distinguished citizens as its rulers,

these individuals are no less apt to retire from a political career in which it is almost impossible to retain their independence, or to advance without degrading themselves. This
opinion has been very candidly set forth by Chancellor Kent,
who says, in speaking with great eulogiums of that part of
the Constitution which empowers the Executive to nominate the judges: It is indeed probable that the men who are
best fitted to discharge the duties of this high office would
have too much reserve in their manners, and too much austerity in their principles, for them to be returned by the majority at an election where universal suffrage is adopted. Such
were the opinions which were printed without contradiction in America in the year 1830!
I hold it to be sufficiently demonstrated that universal suffrage is by no means a guarantee of the wisdom of the popular choice, and that, whatever its advantages may be, this is
not one of them.


Democracy in America
Causes Which May Partly Correct These Tendencies Of The
Democracy Contrary effects produced on peoples as well as
on individuals by great dangers Why so many distinguished
men stood at the head of affairs in America fifty years ago
Influence which the intelligence and the manners of the
people exercise upon its choice Example of New England
States of the Southwest Influence of certain laws upon
the choice of the people Election by an elected body Its
effects upon the composition of the Senate.
When a State is threatened by serious dangers, the people
frequently succeeds in selecting the citizens who are the most
able to save it. It has been observed that man rarely retains
his customary level in presence of very critical circumstances;
he rises above or he sinks below his usual condition, and the
same thing occurs in nations at large. Extreme perils sometimes quench the energy of a people instead of stimulating
it; they excite without directing its passions, and instead of
clearing they confuse its powers of perception. The Jews deluged the smoking ruins of their temple with the carnage of
the remnant of their host. But it is more common, both in

the case of nations and in that of individuals, to find extraordinary virtues arising from the very imminence of the danger. Great characters are then thrown into relief, as edifices
which are concealed by the gloom of night are illuminated
by the glare of a conflagration. At those dangerous times
genius no longer abstains from presenting itself in the arena;
and the people, alarmed by the perils of its situation, buries
its envious passions in a short oblivion. Great names may
then be drawn from the balloting-box.
I have already observed that the American statesmen of
the present day are very inferior to those who stood at the
head of affairs fifty years ago. This is as much a consequence
of the circumstances as of the laws of the country. When
America was struggling in the high cause of independence
to throw off the yoke of another country, and when it was
about to usher a new nation into the world, the spirits of its
inhabitants were roused to the height which their great efforts required. In this general excitement the most distinguished men were ready to forestall the wants of the community, and the people clung to them for support, and placed
them at its head. But events of this magnitude are rare, and

it is from an inspection of the ordinary course of affairs that
our judgment must be formed.
If passing occurrences sometimes act as checks upon the
passions of democracy, the intelligence and the manners of
the community exercise an influence which is not less powerful and far more permanent. This is extremely perceptible
in the United States.
In New England the education and the liberties of the communities were engendered by the moral and religious principles of their founders. Where society has acquired a sufficient degree of stability to enable it to hold certain maxims
and to retain fixed habits, the lower orders are accustomed
to respect intellectual superiority and to submit to it without complaint, although they set at naught all those privileges which wealth and birth have introduced among mankind. The democracy in New England consequently makes
a more judicious choice than it does elsewhere.
But as we descend towards the South, to those States in
which the constitution of society is more modern and less
strong, where instruction is less general, and where the principles of morality, of religion, and of liberty are less happily

combined, we perceive that the talents and the virtues of

those who are in authority become more and more rare.
Lastly, when we arrive at the new South-western States, in
which the constitution of society dates but from yesterday,
and presents an agglomeration of adventurers and speculators, we are amazed at the persons who are invested with
public authority, and we are led to ask by what force, independent of the legislation and of the men who direct it, the
State can be protected, and society be made to flourish.
There are certain laws of a democratic nature which contribute, nevertheless, to correct, in some measure, the dangerous tendencies of democracy. On entering the House of
Representatives of Washington one is struck by the vulgar
demeanor of that great assembly. The eye frequently does
not discover a man of celebrity within its walls. Its members
are almost all obscure individuals whose names present no
associations to the mind: they are mostly village lawyers, men
in trade, or even persons belonging to the lower classes of
society. In a country in which education is very general, it is
said that the representatives of the people do not always know
how to write correctly.

Democracy in America
At a few yards distance from this spot is the door of the
Senate, which contains within a small space a large proportion of the celebrated men of America. Scarcely an individual
is to be perceived in it who does not recall the idea of an active
and illustrious career: the Senate is composed of eloquent advocates, distinguished generals, wise magistrates, and statesmen of note, whose language would at all times do honor to
the most remarkable parliamentary debates of Europe.
What then is the cause of this strange contrast, and why
are the most able citizens to be found in one assembly rather
than in the other? Why is the former body remarkable for its
vulgarity and its poverty of talent, whilst the latter seems to
enjoy a monopoly of intelligence and of sound judgment?
Both of these assemblies emanate from the people; both of
them are chosen by universal suffrage; and no voice has hitherto been heard to assert in America that the Senate is hostile
to the interests of the people. From what cause, then, does
so startling a difference arise? The only reason which appears
to me adequately to account for it is, that the House of Representatives is elected by the populace directly, and that the
Senate is elected by elected bodies. The whole body of the

citizens names the legislature of each State, and the Federal

Constitution converts these legislatures into so many electoral bodies, which return the members of the Senate. The
senators are elected by an indirect application of universal
suffrage; for the legislatures which name them are not aristocratic or privileged bodies which exercise the electoral franchise in their own right; but they are chosen by the totality
of the citizens; they are generally elected every year, and new
members may constantly be chosen who will employ their
electoral rights in conformity with the wishes of the public.
But this transmission of the popular authority through an
assembly of chosen men operates an important change in it,
by refining its discretion and improving the forms which it
adopts. Men who are chosen in this manner accurately represent the majority of the nation which governs them; but
they represent the elevated thoughts which are current in
the community, the propensities which prompt its nobler
actions, rather than the petty passions which disturb or the
vices which disgrace it.
The time may be already anticipated at which the American Republics will be obliged to introduce the plan of elec228

tion by an elected body more frequently into their system of
representation, or they will incur no small risk of perishing
miserably amongst the shoals of democracy.
And here I have no scruple in confessing that I look upon
this peculiar system of election as the only means of bringing the exercise of political power to the level of all classes of
the people. Those thinkers who regard this institution as the
exclusive weapon of a party, and those who fear, on the other
hand, to make use of it, seem to me to fall into as great an
error in the one case as in the other.
Influence Which the American Democracy Has Exercised
on the Laws Relating to Elections
When elections are rare, they expose the State to a violent
crisis When they are frequent, they keep up a degree of
feverish excitement The Americans have preferred the second of these two evils Mutability of the laws Opinions of
Hamilton and Jefferson on this subject.
When elections recur at long intervals the State is exposed to

violent agitation every time they take place. Parties exert

themselves to the utmost in order to gain a prize which is so
rarely within their reach; and as the evil is almost irremediable for the candidates who fail, the consequences of their
disappointed ambition may prove most disastrous; if, on the
other hand, the legal struggle can be repeated within a short
space of time, the defeated parties take patience. When elections occur frequently, their recurrence keeps society in a
perpetual state of feverish excitement, and imparts a continual instability to public affairs.
Thus, on the one hand the State is exposed to the perils of
a revolution, on the other to perpetual mutability; the former
system threatens the very existence of the Government, the
latter is an obstacle to all steady and consistent policy. The
Americans have preferred the second of these evils to the
first; but they were led to this conclusion by their instinct
much more than by their reason; for a taste for variety is one
of the characteristic passions of democracy. An extraordinary mutability has, by this means, been introduced into
their legislation. Many of the Americans consider the instability of their laws as a necessary consequence of a system

Democracy in America
whose general results are beneficial. But no one in the United
States affects to deny the fact of this instability, or to contend that it is not a great evil.
Hamilton, after having demonstrated the utility of a power
which might prevent, or which might at least impede, the
promulgation of bad laws, adds: It might perhaps be said
that the power of preventing bad laws includes that of preventing good ones, and may be used to the one purpose as
well as to the other. But this objection will have little weight
with those who can properly estimate the mischiefs of that
inconstancy and mutability in the laws which form the greatest blemish in the character and genius of our governments.
(Federalist, No. 73.) And again in No. 62 of the same work
he observes: The facility and excess of law-making seem to
be the diseases to which our governments are most liable.
The mischievous effects of the mutability in the public councils arising from a rapid succession of new members would
fill a volume: every new election in the States is found to
change one-half of the representatives. From this change of
men must proceed a change of opinions and of measures,
which forfeits the respect and confidence of other nations,

poisons the blessings of liberty itself, and diminishes the attachment and reverence of the people toward a political system which betrays so many marks of infirmity.
Jefferson himself, the greatest Democrat whom the democracy of America has yet produced, pointed out the same evils.
The instability of our laws, said he in a letter to Madison,
is really a very serious inconvenience. I think that we ought
to have obviated it by deciding that a whole year should always be allowed to elapse between the bringing in of a bill
and the final passing of it. It should afterward be discussed
and put to the vote without the possibility of making any
alteration in it; and if the circumstances of the case required
a more speedy decision, the question should not be decided
by a simple majority, but by a majority of at least two-thirds
of both houses.


Public Officers Under The Control Of The Democracy In
America Simple exterior of the American public officers
No official costume All public officers are remunerated
Political consequences of this system No public career exists in America Result of this.
Public officers in the United States are commingled with the
crowd of citizens; they have neither palaces, nor guards, nor
ceremonial costumes. This simple exterior of the persons in
authority is connected not only with the peculiarities of the
American character, but with the fundamental principles of
that society. In the estimation of the democracy a government is not a benefit, but a necessary evil. A certain degree
of power must be granted to public officers, for they would
be of no use without it. But the ostensible semblance of authority is by no means indispensable to the conduct of affairs, and it is needlessly offensive to the susceptibility of the
public. The public officers themselves are well aware that
they only enjoy the superiority over their fellow-citizens which
they derive from their authority upon condition of putting
themselves on a level with the whole community by their

manners. A public officer in the United States is uniformly

civil, accessible to all the world, attentive to all requests, and
obliging in his replies. I was pleased by these characteristics
of a democratic government; and I was struck by the manly
independence of the citizens, who respect the office more
than the officer, and who are less attached to the emblems of
authority than to the man who bears them.
I am inclined to believe that the influence which costumes
really exercise, in an age like that in which we live, has been
a good deal exaggerated. I never perceived that a public officer in America was the less respected whilst he was in the
discharge of his duties because his own merit was set off by
no adventitious signs. On the other hand, it is very doubtful
whether a peculiar dress contributes to the respect which
public characters ought to have for their own position, at
least when they are not otherwise inclined to respect it. When
a magistrate (and in France such instances are not rare) indulges his trivial wit at the expense of the prisoner, or derides the predicament in which a culprit is placed, it would
be well to deprive him of his robes of office, to see whether
he would recall some portion of the natural dignity of man231

Democracy in America
kind when he is reduced to the apparel of a private citizen.
A democracy may, however, allow a certain show of magisterial pomp, and clothe its officers in silks and gold, without seriously compromising its principles. Privileges of this
kind are transitory; they belong to the place, and are distinct
from the individual: but if public officers are not uniformly
remunerated by the State, the public charges must be entrusted to men of opulence and independence, who constitute the basis of an aristocracy; and if the people still retains
its right of election, that election can only be made from a
certain class of citizens. When a democratic republic renders
offices which had formerly been remunerated gratuitous, it
may safely be believed that the State is advancing to monarchical institutions; and when a monarchy begins to remunerate such officers as had hitherto been unpaid, it is a sure
sign that it is approaching toward a despotic or a republican
form of government. The substitution of paid for unpaid
functionaries is of itself, in my opinion, sufficient to constitute a serious revolution.
I look upon the entire absence of gratuitous functionaries
in America as one of the most prominent signs of the abso-

lute dominion which democracy exercises in that country.

All public services, of whatsoever nature they may be, are
paid; so that every one has not merely the right, but also the
means of performing them. Although, in democratic States,
all the citizens are qualified to occupy stations in the Government, all are not tempted to try for them. The number
and the capacities of the candidates are more apt to restrict
the choice of electors than the coneitions of the candidateship.
In nations in which the principle of election extends to
every place in the State no political career can, properly speaking, be said to exist. Men are promoted as if by chance to the
rank which they enjoy, and they are by no means sure of
retaining it. The consequence is that in tranquil times public
functions offer but few lures to ambition. In the United States
the persons who engage in the perplexities of political life
are individuals of very moderate pretensions. The pursuit of
wealth generally diverts men of great talents and of great
passions from the pursuit of power, and it very frequently
happens that a man does not undertake to direct the fortune
of the State until he has discovered his incompetence to conduct his own affairs. The vast number of very ordinary men

who occupy public stations is quite as attributable to these
causes as to the bad choice of the democracy. In the United
States, I am not sure that the people would return the men
of superior abilities who might solicit its support, but it is
certain that men of this description do not come forward.
Arbitrary Power of Magistrates under the Rule of the
American Democracy
For what reason the arbitrary power of Magistrates is greater
in absolute monarchies and in democratic republics than it
is in limited monarchies Arbitrary power of the Magistrates in New England.
In two different kinds of government the magistrates* exercise a considerable degree of arbitrary power; namely, under
the absolute government of a single individual, and under
that of a democracy. This identical result proceeds from causes
which are nearly analogous.
*I here use the word magistrates in the widest sense in which
it can be taken; I apply it to all the officers to whom the
execution of the laws is intrusted.

In despotic States the fortune of no citizen is secure; and

public officers are not more safe than private individuals.
The sovereign, who has under his control the lives, the property, and sometimes the honor of the men whom he employs, does not scruple to allow them a great latitude of action, because he is convinced that they will not use it to his
prejudice. In despotic States the sovereign is so attached to
the exercise of his power, that he dislikes the constraint even
of his own regulations; and he is well pleased that his agents
should follow a somewhat fortuitous line of conduct, provided he be certain that their actions will never counteract
his desires.
In democracies, as the majority has every year the right of
depriving the officers whom it has appointed of their power, it
has no reason to fear any abuse of their authority. As the people
is always able to signify its wishes to those who conduct the
Government, it prefers leaving them to make their own exertions to prescribing an invariable rule of conduct which would
at once fetter their activity and the popular authority.
It may even be observed, on attentive consideration, that
under the rule of a democracy the arbitrary power of the

Democracy in America
magistrate must be still greater than in despotic States. In the
latter the sovereign has the power of punishing all the faults
with which he becomes acquainted, but it would be vain for
him to hope to become acquainted with all those which are
committed. In the former the sovereign power is not only supreme, but it is universally present. The American functionaries are, in point of fact, much more independent in the sphere
of action which the law traces out for them than any public
officer in Europe. Very frequently the object which they are to
accomplish is simply pointed out to them, and the choice of
the means is left to their own discretion.
In New England, for instance, the selectmen of each township are bound to draw up the list of persons who are to
serve on the jury; the only rule which is laid down to guide
them in their choice is that they are to select citizens possessing the elective franchise and enjoying a fair reputation.* In
France the lives and liberties of the subjects would be thought
to be in danger if a public officer of any kind was entrusted
with so formidable a right. In New England the same magis*See the Act of February 27, 1813. General Collection of
the Laws of Massachusetts, vol. ii. p. 331. It should be added
that the jurors are afterwards drawn from these lists by lot.

trates are empowered to post the names of habitual drunkards in public-houses, and to prohibit the inhabitants of a
town from supplying them with liquor.* A censorial power
of this excessive kind would be revolting to the population
of the most absolute monarchies; here, however, it is submitted to without difficulty.
Nowhere has so much been left by the law to the arbitrary
determination of the magistrate as in democratic republics,
because this arbitrary power is unattended by any alarming
consequences. It may even be asserted that the freedom of
the magistrate increases as the elective franchise is extended,
and as the duration of the time of office is shortened. Hence
arises the great difficulty which attends the conversion of a
democratic republic into a monarchy. The magistrate ceases
to be elective, but he retains the rights and the habits of an
elected officer, which lead directly to despotism.
It is only in limited monarchies that the law, which prescribes the sphere in which public officers are to act, superintends all their measures. The cause of this may be easily
detected. In limited monarchies the power is divided between
*See Act of February 28, 1787. General Collection of the
Laws of Massachusetts, vol. i. p. 302.

the King and the people, both of whom are interested in the
stability of the magistrate. The King does not venture to place
the public officers under the control of the people, lest they
should be tempted to betray his interests; on the other hand,
the people fears lest the magistrates should serve to oppress
the liberties of the country, if they were entirely dependent
upon the Crown; they cannot therefore be said to depend
on either one or the other. The same cause which induces
the king and the people to render public officers independent suggests the necessity of such securities as may prevent
their independence from encroaching upon the authority of
the former and the liberties of the latter. They consequently
agree as to the necessity of restricting the functionary to a
line of conduct laid down beforehand, and they are interested in confining him by certain regulations which he cannot evade.

Chapter XIII: Government of the Democarcy in

America Part II Instability of the Administration in the United States
In America the public acts of a community frequently leave
fewer traces than the occurrences of a family Newspapers
the only historical remains Instability of the administration prejudicial to the art of government.
The authority which public men possess in America is so
brief, and they are so soon commingled with the ever-changing population of the country, that the acts of a community
frequently leave fewer traces than the occurrences of a private family. The public administration is, so to speak, oral
and traditionary. But little is committed to writing, and that
little is wafted away forever, like the leaves of the Sibyl, by
the smallest breeze.
The only historical remains in the United States are the
newspapers; but if a number be wanting, the chain of time is
broken, and the present is severed from the past. I am convinced that in fifty years it will be more difficult to collect


Democracy in America
authentic documents concerning the social condition of the
Americans at the present day than it is to find remains of the
administration of France during the Middle Ages; and if the
United States were ever invaded by barbarians, it would be
necessary to have recourse to the history of other nations in
order to learn anything of the people which now inhabits them.
The instability of the administration has penetrated into
the habits of the people: it even appears to suit the general
taste, and no one cares for what occurred before his time. No
methodical system is pursued; no archives are formed; and no
documents are brought together when it would be very easy
to do so. Where they exist, little store is set upon them; and I
have amongst my papers several original public documents
which were given to me in answer to some of my inquiries. In
America society seems to live from hand to mouth, like an
army in the field. Nevertheless, the art of administration may
undoubtedly be ranked as a science, and no sciences can be
improved if the discoveries and observations of successive generations are not connected together in the order in which they
occur. One man, in the short space of his life remarks a fact;
another conceives an idea; the former invents a means of execution, the latter reduces a truth to a fixed proposition; and

mankind gathers the fruits of individual experience upon its

way and gradually forms the sciences. But the persons who
conduct the administration in America can seldom afford any
instruction to each other; and when they assume the direction
of society, they simply possess those attainments which are
most widely disseminated in the community, and no experience peculiar to themselves. Democracy, carried to its furthest
limits, is therefore prejudicial to the art of government; and
for this reason it is better adapted to a people already versed in
the conduct of an administration than to a nation which is
uninitiated in public affairs.
This remark, indeed, is not exclusively applicable to the
science of administration. Although a democratic government is founded upon a very simple and natural principle, it
always presupposes the existence of a high degree of culture
and enlightenment in society.* At the first glance it may be
imagined to belong to the earliest ages of the world; but
maturer observation will convince us that it could only come
last in the succession of human history.
*It is needless to observe that I speak here of the democratic
form of government as applied to a people, not merely to a

Charges Levied by the State under the Rule
of the American Democracy
In all communities citizens divisible into three classes Habits
of each of these classes in the direction of public finances
Why public expenditure must tend to increase when the
people governs What renders the extravagance of a democracy less to be feared in America Public expenditure under
a democracy.
Before we can affirm whether a democratic form of government is economical or not, we must establish a suitable standard of comparison. The question would be one of easy solution if we were to attempt to draw a parallel between a
democratic republic and an absolute monarchy. The public
expenditure would be found to be more considerable under
the former than under the latter; such is the case with all free
States compared to those which are not so. It is certain that
despotism ruins individuals by preventing them from producing wealth, much more than by depriving them of the
wealth they have produced; it dries up the source of riches,

whilst it usually respects acquired property. Freedom, on the

contrary, engenders far more benefits than it destroys; and
the nations which are favored by free institutions invariably
find that their resources increase even more rapidly than their
My present object is to compare free nations to each other,
and to point out the influence of democracy upon the finances of a State.
Communities, as well as organic bodies, are subject to certain fixed rules in their formation which they cannot evade.
They are composed of certain elements which are common
to them at all times and under all circumstances. The people
may always be mentally divided into three distinct classes.
The first of these classes consists of the wealthy; the second,
of those who are in easy circumstances; and the third is composed of those who have little or no property, and who subsist more especially by the work which they perform for the
two superior orders. The proportion of the individuals who
are included in these three divisions may vary according to
the condition of society, but the divisions themselves can
never be obliterated.

Democracy in America
It is evident that each of these classes will exercise an influence peculiar to its own propensities upon the administration of the finances of the State. If the first of the three exclusively possesses the legislative power, it is probable that it
will not be sparing of the public funds, because the taxes
which are levied on a large fortune only tend to diminish the
sum of superfluous enjoyment, and are, in point of fact, but
little felt. If the second class has the power of making the
laws, it will certainly not be lavish of taxes, because nothing
is so onerous as a large impost which is levied upon a small
income. The government of the middle classes appears to
me to be the most economical, though perhaps not the most
enlightened, and certainly not the most generous, of free
But let us now suppose that the legislative authority is vested
in the lowest orders: there are two striking reasons which
show that the tendency of the expenditure will be to increase,
not to diminish. As the great majority of those who create
the laws are possessed of no property upon which taxes can
be imposed, all the money which is spent for the community appears to be spent to their advantage, at no cost of

their own; and those who are possessed of some little property readily find means of regulating the taxes so that they
are burdensome to the wealthy and profitable to the poor,
although the rich are unable to take the same advantage when
they are in possession of the Government.
In countries in which the poor* should be exclusively invested with the power of making the laws no great economy
of public expenditure ought to be expected: that expenditure will always be considerable; either because the taxes do
not weigh upon those who levy them, or because they are
levied in such a manner as not to weigh upon those classes.
In other words, the government of the democracy is the only
one under which the power which lays on taxes escapes the
payment of them.
It may be objected (but the argument has no real weight)
that the true interest of the people is indissolubly connected
with that of the wealthier portion of the community, since it
*The word poor is used here, and throughout the remainder
of this chapter, in a relative, not in an absolute sense. Poor
men in America would often appear rich in comparison with
the poor of Europe; but they may with propriety by styled
poor in comparison with their more affluent countrymen.

cannot but suffer by the severe measures to which it resorts.
But is it not the true interest of kings to render their subjects
happy, and the true interest of nobles to admit recruits into
their order on suitable grounds? If remote advantages had
power to prevail over the passions and the exigencies of the
moment, no such thing as a tyrannical sovereign or an exclusive aristocracy could ever exist.
Again, it may be objected that the poor are never invested
with the sole power of making the laws; but I reply, that
wherever universal suffrage has been established the majority of the community unquestionably exercises the legislative authority; and if it be proved that the poor always constitute the majority, it may be added, with perfect truth, that
in the countries in which they possess the elective franchise
they possess the sole power of making laws. But it is certain
that in all the nations of the world the greater number has
always consisted of those persons who hold no property, or
of those whose property is insufficient to exempt them from
the necessity of working in order to procure an easy subsistence. Universal suffrage does therefore, in point of fact, invest the poor with the government of society.

The disastrous influence which popular authority may

sometimes exercise upon the finances of a State was very
clearly seen in some of the democratic republics of antiquity,
in which the public treasure was exhausted in order to relieve indigent citizens, or to supply the games and theatrical
amusements of the populace. It is true that the representative system was then very imperfectly known, and that, at
the present time, the influence of popular passion is less felt
in the conduct of public affairs; but it may be believed that
the delegate will in the end conform to the principles of his
constituents, and favor their propensities as much as their
The extravagance of democracy is, however, less to be
dreaded in proportion as the people acquires a share of property, because on the one hand the contributions of the rich
are then less needed, and, on the other, it is more difficult to
lay on taxes which do not affect the interests of the lower
classes. On this account universal suffrage would be less dangerous in France than in England, because in the latter country the property on which taxes may be levied is vested in
fewer hands. America, where the great majority of the citi239

Democracy in America
zens possess some fortune, is in a still more favorable position than France.
There are still further causes which may increase the sum of
public expenditure in democratic countries. When the aristocracy governs, the individuals who conduct the affairs of
State are exempted by their own station in society from every
kind of privation; they are contented with their position; power
and renown are the objects for which they strive; and, as they
are placed far above the obscurer throng of citizens, they do
not always distinctly perceive how the well-being of the mass
of the people ought to redound to their own honor. They are
not indeed callous to the sufferings of the poor, but they cannot feel those miseries as acutely as if they were themselves
partakers of them. Provided that the people appear to submit
to its lot, the rulers are satisfied, and they demand nothing
further from the Government. An aristocracy is more intent
upon the means of maintaining its influence than upon the
means of improving its condition.
When, on the contrary, the people is invested with the
supreme authority, the perpetual sense of their own miseries
impels the rulers of society to seek for perpetual ameliora-

tions. A thousand different objects are subjected to improvement; the most trivial details are sought out as susceptible of
amendment; and those changes which are accompanied with
considerable expense are more especially advocated, since the
object is to render the condition of the poor more tolerable,
who cannot pay for themselves.
Moreover, all democratic communities are agitated by an
ill-defined excitement and by a kind of feverish impatience,
that engender a multitude of innovations, almost all of which
are attended with expense.
In monarchies and aristocracies the natural taste which
the rulers have for power and for renown is stimulated by
the promptings of ambition, and they are frequently incited
by these temptations to very costly undertakings. In democracies, where the rulers labor under privations, they can only
be courted by such means as improve their well-being, and
these improvements cannot take place without a sacrifice of
money. When a people begins to reflect upon its situation, it
discovers a multitude of wants to which it had not before
been subject, and to satisfy these exigencies recourse must be
had to the coffers of the State. Hence it arises that the public

charges increase in proportion as civilization spreads, and
that imposts are augmented as knowledge pervades the community.
The last cause which frequently renders a democratic government dearer than any other is, that a democracy does not
always succeed in moderating its expenditure, because it does
not understand the art of being economical. As the designs
which it entertains are frequently changed, and the agents of
those designs are still more frequently removed, its undertakings are often ill conducted or left unfinished: in the former
case the State spends sums out of all proportion to the end
which it proposes to accomplish; in the second, the expense
itself is unprofitable.*

*The gross receipts of the Treasury of the United States in

1832 were about $28,000,000; in 1870 they had risen to
$411,000,000. The gross expenditure in 1832 was
$30,000,000; in 1870, $309,000,000.

Tendencies of the American Democracy as Regards the

Salaries of Public Officers
In the democracies those who establish high salaries have no
chance of profiting by them Tendency of the American
democracy to increase the salaries of subordinate officers and
to lower those of the more important functionaries Reason
of this Comparative statement of the salaries of public officers in the United States and in France.
There is a powerful reason which usually induces democracies to economize upon the salaries of public officers. As the
number of citizens who dispense the remuneration is extremely large in democratic countries, so the number of persons who can hope to be benefited by the receipt of it is
comparatively small. In aristocratic countries, on the contrary, the individuals who fix high salaries have almost always a vague hope of profiting by them. These appointments
may be looked upon as a capital which they create for their
own use, or at least as a resource for their children.
It must, however, be allowed that a democratic State is most

Democracy in America
parsimonious towards its principal agents. In America the
secondary officers are much better paid, and the dignitaries
of the administration much worse, than they are elsewhere.
These opposite effects result from the same cause; the
people fixes the salaries of the public officers in both cases;
and the scale of remuneration is determined by the consideration of its own wants. It is held to be fair that the servants
of the public should be placed in the same easy circumstances
as the public itself;* but when the question turns upon the
salaries of the great officers of State, this rule fails, and chance
alone can guide the popular decision. The poor have no adequate conception of the wants which the higher classes of
society may feel. The sum which is scanty to the rich appears
enormous to the poor man whose wants do not extend beyond the necessaries of life; and in his estimation the Governor of a State, with his twelve or fifteen hundred dollars a
year, is a very fortunate and enviable being.** If you under*The easy circumstances in which secondary functionaries are placed in
the United States result also from another cause, which is independent
of the general tendencies of democracy; every kind of private business is
very lucrative, and the State would not be served at all if it did not pay its
servants. The country is in the position of a commercial undertaking,
which is obliged to sustain an expensive competition, notwithstanding
its tastes for economy.
**The State of Ohio, which contains a million of inhabitants, gives its
Governor a salary of only $1,200 a year.

take to convince him that the representative of a great people

ought to be able to maintain some show of splendor in the
eyes of foreign nations, he will perhaps assent to your meaning; but when he reflects on his own humble dwelling, and
on the hard- earned produce of his wearisome toil, he remembers all that he could do with a salary which you say is
insufficient, and he is startled or almost frightened at the
sight of such uncommon wealth. Besides, the secondary public officer is almost on a level with the people, whilst the
others are raised above it. The former may therefore excite
his interest, but the latter begins to arouse his envy.
This is very clearly seen in the United States, where the
salaries seem to decrease as the authority of those who receive them augments*
*To render this assertion perfectly evident, it will suffice to
examine the scale of salaries of the agents of the Federal
Government. I have added the salaries attached to the corresponding officers in France under the constitutional monarchy to complete the comparison.
United States Treasury Department
Messenger ................................................................ $700
Clerk with lowest salary ........................................... 1,000
Clerk with highest salary .......................................... 1,600

Chief Clerk .............................................................. 2,000
Secretary of State ...................................................... 6,000
The President ......................................................... 25,000
France Ministere des Finances Hussier .................. 1,500 fr.
Clerk with lowest salary, ..........................1,000 to 1,800 fr.
Clerk with highest salary .........................3,200 to 8,600 fr.
Secretaire-general .................................................20,000 fr.
The Minister .........................................................80,000 fr.
The King ......................................................12,000,000 fr.
I have perhaps done wrong in selecting France as my standard of comparison. In France the democratic tendencies of
the nation exercise an ever-increasing influence upon the
Government, and the Chambers show a disposition to raise
the low salaries and to lower the principal ones. Thus, the
Minister of Finance, who received 160,000 fr. under the
Empire, receives 80,000 fr. in 1835: the Directeurs-generaux
of Finance, who then received 50,000 fr. now receive only
20,000 fr. [This comparison is based on the state of things
existing in France and the United States in 1831. It has since
materially altered in both countries, but not so much as to
impugn the truth of the authors observation.]

Under the rule of an aristocracy it frequently happens,

on the contrary, that whilst the high officers are receiving
munificent salaries, the inferior ones have not more than
enough to procure the necessaries of life. The reason of this
fact is easily discoverable from causes very analogous to those
to which I have just alluded. If a democracy is unable to
conceive the pleasures of the rich or to witness them without envy, an aristocracy is slow to understand, or, to speak
more correctly, is unacquainted with, the privations of the
poor. The poor man is not (if we use the term aright) the
fellow of the rich one; but he is a being of another species.
An aristocracy is therefore apt to care but little for the fate
of its subordinate agents; and their salaries are only raised
when they refuse to perform their service for too scanty a
It is the parsimonious conduct of democracy towards its
principal officers which has countenanced a supposition of
far more economical propensities than any which it really
possesses. It is true that it scarcely allows the means of honorable subsistence to the individuals who conduct its affairs;
but enormous sums are lavished to meet the exigencies or to

Democracy in America
facilitate the enjoyments of the people.* The money raised
by taxation may be better employed, but it is not saved. In
general, democracy gives largely to the community, and very
sparingly to those who govern it. The reverse is the case in
aristocratic countries, where the money of the State is expended to the profit of the persons who are at the head of
Difficulty of Distinguishing the Causes Which Contribute to the Economy of the American Government
We are liable to frequent errors in the research of those facts
which exercise a serious influence upon the fate of mankind,
since nothing is more difficult than to appreciate their real
*See the American budgets for the cost of indigent citizens
and gratuitous instruction. In 1831 $250,000 were spent in
the State of New York for the maintenance of the poor, and
at least $1,000,000 were devoted to gratuitous instruction.
(Williams New York Annual Register, 1832, pp. 205 and
243.) The State of New York contained only 1,900,000 inhabitants in the year 1830, which is not more than double
the amount of population in the Department du Nord in

value. One people is naturally inconsistent and enthusiastic;

another is sober and calculating; and these characteristics
originate in their physical constitution or in remote causes
with which we are unacquainted.
These are nations which are fond of parade and the bustle
of festivity, and which do not regret the costly gaieties of an
hour. Others, on the contrary, are attached to more retiring
pleasures, and seem almost ashamed of appearing to be
pleased. In some countries the highest value is set upon the
beauty of public edifices; in others the productions of art are
treated with indifference, and everything which is unproductive is looked down upon with contempt. In some renown, in others money, is the ruling passion.
Independently of the laws, all these causes concur to exercise a very powerful influence upon the conduct of the finances of the State. If the Americans never spend the money
of the people in galas, it is not only because the imposition
of taxes is under the control of the people, but because the
people takes no delight in public rejoicings. If they repudiate all ornament from their architecture, and set no store on
any but the more practical and homely advantages, it is not

only because they live under democratic institutions, but
because they are a commercial nation. The habits of private
life are continued in public; and we ought carefully to distinguish that economy which depends upon their institutions from that which is the natural result of their manners
and customs.
Whether the Expenditure of the United States Can Be
Compared to That of France
Two points to be established in order to estimate the extent
of the public charges, viz., the national wealth and the rate
of taxation The wealth and the charges of France not accurately known Why the wealth and charges of the Union
cannot be accurately known Researches of the author with
a view to discover the amount of taxation of Pennsylvania
General symptoms which may serve to indicate the amount
of the public charges in a given nation Result of this investigation for the Union.
Many attempts have recently been made in France to com-

pare the public expenditure of that country with the expenditure of the United States; all these attempts have, however,
been unattended by success, and a few words will suffice to
show that they could not have had a satisfactory result.
In order to estimate the amount of the public charges of a
people two preliminaries are indispensable: it is necessary, in
the first place, to know the wealth of that people; and in the
second, to learn what portion of that wealth is devoted to
the expenditure of the State. To show the amount of taxation without showing the resources which are destined to
meet the demand, is to undertake a futile labor; for it is not
the expenditure, but the relation of the expenditure to the
revenue, which it is desirable to know.
The same rate of taxation which may easily be supported
by a wealthy contributor will reduce a poor one to extreme
misery. The wealth of nations is composed of several distinct
elements, of which population is the first, real property the
second, and personal property the third. The first of these
three elements may be discovered without difficulty. Amongst
civilized nations it is easy to obtain an accurate census of the
inhabitants; but the two others cannot be determined with

Democracy in America
so much facility. It is difficult to take an exact account of all
the lands in a country which are under cultivation, with their
natural or their acquired value; and it is still more impossible
to estimate the entire personal property which is at the disposal of a nation, and which eludes the strictest analysis by
the diversity and the number of shapes under which it may
occur. And, indeed, we find that the most ancient civilized
nations of Europe, including even those in which the administration is most central, have not succeeded, as yet, in
determining the exact condition of their wealth.
In America the attempt has never been made; for how
would such an investigation be possible in a country where
society has not yet settled into habits of regularity and tranquillity; where the national Government is not assisted by a
multiple of agents whose exertions it can command and direct to one sole end; and where statistics are not studied,
because no one is able to collect the necessary documents, or
to find time to peruse them? Thus the primary elements of
the calculations which have been made in France cannot be
obtained in the Union; the relative wealth of the two countries is unknown; the property of the former is not accu-

rately determined, and no means exist of computing that of

the latter.
I consent, therefore, for the sake of the discussion, to abandon this necessary term of the comparison, and I confine
myself to a computation of the actual amount of taxation,
without investigating the relation which subsists between the
taxation and the revenue. But the reader will perceive that
my task has not been facilitated by the limits which I here
lay down for my researches.
It cannot be doubted that the central administration of
France, assisted by all the public officers who are at its disposal, might determine with exactitude the amount of the
direct and indirect taxes levied upon the citizens. But this
investigation, which no private individual can undertake, has
not hitherto been completed by the French Government, or,
at least, its results have not been made public. We are acquainted with the sum total of the charges of the State; we
know the amount of the departmental expenditure; but the
expenses of the communal divisions have not been computed,
and the amount of the public expenses of France is consequently unknown.
If we now turn to America, we shall perceive that the dif246

ficulties are multiplied and enhanced. The Union publishes
an exact return of the amount of its expenditure; the budgets of the four and twenty States furnish similar returns of
their revenues; but the expenses incident to the affairs of the
counties and the townships are unknown.*
*The Americans, as we have seen, have four separate budgets, the Union,
the States, the Counties, and the Townships having each severally their
own. During my stay in America I made every endeavor to discover the
amount of the public expenditure in the townships and counties of the
principal States of the Union, and I readily obtained the budget of the
larger townships, but I found it quite impossible to procure that of the
smaller ones. I possess, however, some documents relating to county
expenses, which, although incomplete, are still curious. I have to thank
Mr. Richards, Mayor of Philadelphia, for the budgets of thirteen of the
counties of Pennsylvania, viz., Lebanon, Centre, Franklin, Fayette, Montgomery, Luzerne, Dauphin, Butler, Alleghany, Columbia, Northampton,
Northumberland, and Philadelphia, for the year 1830. Their population at that time consisted of 495,207 inhabitants. On looking at the
map of Pennsylvania, it will be seen that these thirteen counties are scattered in every direction, and so generally affected by the causes which
usually influence the condition of a country, that they may easily be
supposed to furnish a correct average of the financial state of the counties of Pennsylvania in general; and thus, upon reckoning that the expenses of these counties amounted in the year 1830 to about $361,650,
or nearly 75 cents for each inhabitant, and calculating that each of them
contributed in the same year about $2.55 towards the Union, and about
75 cents to the State of Pennsylvania, it appears that they each contributed as their share of all the public expenses (except those of the townships) the sum of $4.05. This calculation is doubly incomplete, as it
applies only to a single year and to one part of the public charges; but it
has at least the merit of not being conjectural.

The authority of the Federal government cannot oblige

the provincial governments to throw any light upon this
point; and even if these governments were inclined to afford
their simultaneous co- operation, it may be doubted whether
they possess the means of procuring a satisfactory answer.
Independently of the natural difficulties of the task, the political organization of the country would act as a hindrance
to the success of their efforts. The county and town magistrates are not appointed by the authorities of the State, and
they are not subjected to their control. It is therefore very
allowable to suppose that, if the State was desirous of obtaining the returns which we require, its design would be
counteracted by the neglect of those subordinate officers
whom it would be obliged to employ.* It is, in point of fact,
useless to inquire what the Americans might do to forward
this inquiry, since it is certain that they have hitherto done
nothing at all. There does not exist a single individual at the
present day, in America or in Europe, who can inform us
what each citizen of the Union annually contributes to the
public charges of the nation.**
*Those who have attempted to draw a comparison between the
expenses of France and America have at once perceived that no


Democracy in America
such comparison could be drawn between the total expenditure
of the two countries; but they have endeavored to contrast detached portions of this expenditure. It may readily be shown that
this second system is not at all less defective than the first. If I
attempt to compare the French budget with the budget of the
Union, it must be remembered that the latter embraces much fewer
objects than then central Government of the former country, and
that the expenditure must consequently be much smaller. If I contrast the budgets of the Departments with those of the States which
constitute the Union, it must be observed that, as the power and
control exercised by the States is much greater than that which is
exercised by the Departments, their expenditure is also more considerable. As for the budgets of the counties, nothing of the kind
occurs in the French system of finances; and it is, again, doubtful
whether the corresponding expenses should be referred to the budget of the State or to those of the municipal divisions. Municipal
expenses exist in both countries, but they are not always analogous. In America the townships discharge a variety of offices which
are reserved in France to the Departments or to the State. It may,
moreover, be asked what is to be understood by the municipal
expenses of America. The organization of the municipal bodies or
townships differs in the several States. Are we to be guided by
what occurs in New England or in Georgia, in Pennsylvania or in
the State of Illinois? A kind of analogy may very readily be perceived between certain budgets in the two countries; but as the
elements of which they are composed always differ more or less,
no fair comparison can be instituted between them. [The same
difficulty exists, perhaps to a greater degree at the present time,
when the taxation of America has largely increased. 1874.]]
**Even if we knew the exact pecuniary contributions of every French
and American citizen to the coffers of the State, we should only
come at a portion of the truth. Governments do not only demand
supplies of money, but they call for personal services, which may be

looked upon as equivalent to a given sum. When a State raises an

army, besides the pay of the troops, which is furnished by the entire
nation, each soldier must give up his time, the value of which depends on the use he might make of it if he were not in the service.
The same remark applies to the militia; the citizen who is in the
militia devotes a certain portion of valuable time to the maintenance of the public peace, and he does in reality surrender to the
State those earnings which he is prevented from gaining. Many other
instances might be cited in addition to these. The governments of
France and of America both levy taxes of this kind, which weigh
upon the citizens; but who can estimate with accuracy their relative
amount in the two countries?
This, however, is not the last of the difficulties which prevent us
from comparing the expenditure of the Union with that of France.
The French Government contracts certain obligations which do
not exist in America, and vice versa. The French Government pays
the clergy; in America the voluntary principle prevails. In America
there is a legal provision for the poor; in France they are abandoned to the charity of the public. The French public officers are
paid by a fixed salary; in America they are allowed certain perquisites. In France contributions in kind take place on very few roads;
in America upon almost all the thoroughfares: in the former country the roads are free to all travellers; in the latter turnpikes abound.
All these differences in the manner in which contributions are
levied in the two countries enhance the difficulty of comparing
their expenditure; for there are certain expenses which the citizens
would not be subject to, or which would at any rate be much less
considerable, if the State did not take upon itself to act in the
name of the public.


Hence we must conclude that it is no less difficult to compare the social expenditure than it is to estimate the relative
wealth of France and America. I will even add that it would
be dangerous to attempt this comparison; for when statistics
are not based upon computations which are strictly accurate, they mislead instead of guiding aright. The mind is easily imposed upon by the false affectation of exactness, which
prevails even in the misstatements of science, and it adopts
with confidence errors which are dressed in the forms of
mathematical truth.
We abandon, therefore, our numerical investigation, with
the hope of meeting with data of another kind. In the absence of positive documents, we may form an opinion as to
the proportion which the taxation of a people bears to its
real prosperity, by observing whether its external appearance
is flourishing; whether, after having discharged the calls of
the State, the poor man retains the means of subsistence,
and the rich the means of enjoyment; and whether both
classes are contented with their position, seeking, however,
to ameliorate it by perpetual exertions, so that industry is
never in want of capital, nor capital unemployed by indus-

try. The observer who draws his inferences from these signs
will, undoubtedly, be led to the conclusion that the American of the United States contributes a much smaller portion
of his income to the State than the citizen of France. Nor,
indeed, can the result be otherwise.
A portion of the French debt is the consequence of two
successive invasions; and the Union has no similar calamity
to fear. A nation placed upon the continent of Europe is
obliged to maintain a large standing army; the isolated position of the Union enables it to have only 6,000 soldiers. The
French have a fleet of 300 sail; the Americans have 52 vessels.* How, then, can the inhabitants of the Union be called
upon to contribute as largely as the inhabitants of France?
No parallel can be drawn between the finances of two countries so differently situated.
*See the details in the Budget of the French Minister of
Marine; and for America, the National Calendar of 1833, p.
228. [But the public debt of the United States in 1870, caused
by the Civil War, amounted to $2,480,672,427; that of
France was more than doubled by the extravagance of the
Second Empire and by the war of 1870.]

Democracy in America
It is by examining what actually takes place in the Union,
and not by comparing the Union with France, that we may
discover whether the American Government is really economical. On casting my eyes over the different republics
which form the confederation, I perceive that their Governments lack perseverance in their undertakings, and that they
exercise no steady control over the men whom they employ.
Whence I naturally infer that they must often spend the
money of the people to no purpose, or consume more of it
than is really necessary to their undertakings. Great efforts
are made, in accordance with the democratic origin of society, to satisfy the exigencies of the lower orders, to open the
career of power to their endeavors, and to diffuse knowledge
and comfort amongst them. The poor are maintained, immense sums are annually devoted to public instruction, all
services whatsoever are remunerated, and the most subordinate agents are liberally paid. If this kind of government appears to me to be useful and rational, I am nevertheless constrained to admit that it is expensive.
Wherever the poor direct public affairs and dispose of the
national resources, it appears certain that, as they profit by

the expenditure of the State, they are apt to augment that

I conclude, therefore, without having recourse to inaccurate computations, and without hazarding a comparison
which might prove incorrect, that the democratic government of the Americans is not a cheap government, as is sometimes asserted; and I have no hesitation in predicting that, if
the people of the United States is ever involved in serious
difficulties, its taxation will speedily be increased to the rate
of that which prevails in the greater part of the aristocracies
and the monarchies of Europe.*

*[That is precisely what has since occurred.]



Chapter XIII: Government of the Democracy in

America Part III Corruption and Vices of the
Rulers in a Democracy, and Consequent Effects
upon Public Morality
In aristocracies rulers sometimes endeavor to corrupt the
people In democracies rulers frequently show themselves
to be corrupt In the former their vices are directly prejudicial to the morality of the people In the latter their indirect
influence is still more pernicious.
A distinction must be made, when the aristocratic and the
democratic principles mutually inveigh against each other,
as tending to facilitate corruption. In aristocratic governments
the individuals who are placed at the head of affairs are rich
men, who are solely desirous of power. In democracies statesmen are poor, and they have their fortunes to make. The
consequence is that in aristocratic States the rulers are rarely
accessible to corruption, and have very little craving for
money; whilst the reverse is the case in democratic nations.
But in aristocracies, as those who are desirous of arriving

at the head of affairs are possessed of considerable wealth,

and as the number of persons by whose assistance they may
rise is comparatively small, the government is, if I may use
the expression, put up to a sort of auction. In democracies,
on the contrary, those who are covetous of power are very
seldom wealthy, and the number of citizens who confer that
power is extremely great. Perhaps in democracies the number of men who might be bought is by no means smaller,
but buyers are rarely to be met with; and, besides, it would
be necessary to buy so many persons at once that the attempt is rendered nugatory.
Many of the men who have been in the administration in
France during the last forty years have been accused of making their fortunes at the expense of the State or of its allies; a
reproach which was rarely addressed to the public characters
of the ancient monarchy. But in France the practice of bribing electors is almost unknown, whilst it is notoriously and
publicly carried on in England. In the United States I never
heard a man accused of spending his wealth in corrupting
the populace; but I have often heard the probity of public
officers questioned; still more frequently have I heard their

Democracy in America
success attributed to low intrigues and immoral practices.
If, then, the men who conduct the government of an aristocracy sometimes endeavor to corrupt the people, the heads
of a democracy are themselves corrupt. In the former case
the morality of the people is directly assailed; in the latter an
indirect influence is exercised upon the people which is still
more to be dreaded.
As the rulers of democratic nations are almost always exposed to the suspicion of dishonorable conduct, they in some
measure lend the authority of the Government to the base
practices of which they are accused. They thus afford an example which must prove discouraging to the struggles of virtuous independence, and must foster the secret calculations
of a vicious ambition. If it be asserted that evil passions are
displayed in all ranks of society, that they ascend the throne
by hereditary right, and that despicable characters are to be
met with at the head of aristocratic nations as well as in the
sphere of a democracy, this objection has but little weight in
my estimation. The corruption of men who have casually
risen to power has a coarse and vulgar infection in it which
renders it contagious to the multitude. On the contrary, there

is a kind of aristocratic refinement and an air of grandeur in

the depravity of the great, which frequently prevent it from
spreading abroad.
The people can never penetrate into the perplexing labyrinth of court intrigue, and it will always have difficulty in
detecting the turpitude which lurks under elegant manners,
refined tastes, and graceful language. But to pillage the public purse, and to vend the favors of the State, are arts which
the meanest villain may comprehend, and hope to practice
in his turn.
In reality it is far less prejudicial to witness the immorality
of the great than to witness that immorality which leads to
greatness. In a democracy private citizens see a man of their
own rank in life, who rises from that obscure position, and
who becomes possessed of riches and of power in a few years;
the spectacle excites their surprise and their envy, and they
are led to inquire how the person who was yesterday their
equal is to-day their ruler. To attribute his rise to his talents
or his virtues is unpleasant; for it is tacitly to acknowledge
that they are themselves less virtuous and less talented than
he was. They are therefore led (and not unfrequently their

conjecture is a correct one) to impute his success mainly to
some one of his defects; and an odious mixture is thus formed
of the ideas of turpitude and power, unworthiness and success, utility and dishonor.

of a single man.
It is difficult to say what degree of exertion a democratic
government may be capable of making a crisis in the history
of the nation. But no great democratic republic has hitherto
existed in the world. To style the oligarchy which ruled over
Efforts of Which a Democracy Is Capable
France in 1793 by that name would be to offer an insult to
the republican form of government. The United States afThe Union has only had one struggle hitherto for its existford the first example of the kind.
ence Enthusiasm at the commencement of the war InThe American Union has now subsisted for half a century,
difference towards its close Difficulty of establishing miliin the course of which time its existence has only once been
tary conscription or impressment of seamen in America attacked, namely, during the War of Independence. At the
Why a democratic people is less capable of sustained effort
commencement of that long war, various occurrences took
than another.
place which betokened an extraordinary zeal for the service
of the country.* But as the contest was prolonged, sympI here warn the reader that I speak of a government which toms of private egotism began to show themselves. No money
implicitly follows the real desires of a people, and not of a was poured into the public treasury; few recruits could be
government which simply commands in its name. Nothing raised to join the army; the people wished to acquire indeis so irresistible as a tyrannical power commanding in the *One of the most singular of these occurrences was the resoname of the people, because, whilst it exercises that moral lution which the Americans took of temporarily abandoning the use of tea. Those who know that men usually cling
influence which belongs to the decision of the majority, it
more to their habits than to their life will doubtless admire
acts at the same time with the promptitude and the tenacity
this great though obscure sacrifice which was made by a whole

Democracy in America
pendence, but was very ill-disposed to undergo the privations by which alone it could be obtained. Tax laws, says
Hamilton in the Federalist (No. 12), have in vain been
multiplied; new methods to enforce the collection have in
vain been tried; the public expectation has been uniformly
disappointed and the treasuries of the States have remained
empty. The popular system of administration inherent in
the nature of popular government, coinciding with the real
scarcity of money incident to a languid and mutilated state
of trade, has hitherto defeated every experiment for extensive collections, and has at length taught the different legislatures the folly of attempting them.
The United States have not had any serious war to carry
on ever since that period. In order, therefore, to appreciate
the sacrifices which democratic nations may impose upon
themselves, we must wait until the American people is obliged
to put half its entire income at the disposal of the Government, as was done by the English; or until it sends forth a
twentieth part of its population to the field of battle, as was
done by France.*
*The Civil War showed that when the necessity arose the
American people, both in the North and in the South, are
capable of making the most enormous sacrifices, both in
money and in men.

In America the use of conscription is unknown, and men

are induced to enlist by bounties. The notions and habits of
the people of the United States are so opposed to compulsory enlistment that I do not imagine it can ever be sanctioned by the laws. What is termed the conscription in France
is assuredly the heaviest tax upon the population of that country; yet how could a great continental war be carried on without it? The Americans have not adopted the British impressment of seamen, and they have nothing which corresponds
to the French system of maritime conscription; the navy, as
well as the merchant service, is supplied by voluntary service.
But it is not easy to conceive how a people can sustain a great
maritime war without having recourse to one or the other of
these two systems. Indeed, the Union, which has fought with
some honor upon the seas, has never possessed a very numerous fleet, and the equipment of the small number of American vessels has always been excessively expensive.
I have heard American statesmen confess that the Union
will have great difficulty in maintaining its rank on the seas
without adopting the system of impressment or of maritime
conscription; but the difficulty is to induce the people, which

exercises the supreme authority, to submit to impressment
or any compulsory system.
It is incontestable that in times of danger a free people
displays far more energy than one which is not so. But I
incline to believe that this is more especially the case in those
free nations in which the democratic element preponderates. Democracy appears to me to be much better adapted
for the peaceful conduct of society, or for an occasional effort of remarkable vigor, than for the hardy and prolonged
endurance of the storms which beset the political existence
of nations. The reason is very evident; it is enthusiasm which
prompts men to expose themselves to dangers and privations, but they will not support them long without reflection. There is more calculation, even in the impulses of bravery, than is generally attributed to them; and although the
first efforts are suggested by passion, perseverance is maintained by a distinct regard of the purpose in view. A portion
of what we value is exposed, in order to save the remainder.
But it is this distinct perception of the future, founded
upon a sound judgment and an enlightened experience,
which is most frequently wanting in democracies. The popu-

lace is more apt to feel than to reason; and if its present sufferings are great, it is to be feared that the still greater sufferings attendant upon defeat will be forgotten.
Another cause tends to render the efforts of a democratic
government less persevering than those of an aristocracy. Not
only are the lower classes less awakened than the higher orders to the good or evil chances of the future, but they are
liable to suffer far more acutely from present privations. The
noble exposes his life, indeed, but the chance of glory is equal
to the chance of harm. If he sacrifices a large portion of his
income to the State, he deprives himself for a time of the
pleasures of affluence; but to the poor man death is embellished by no pomp or renown, and the imposts which are
irksome to the rich are fatal to him.
This relative impotence of democratic republics is, perhaps,
the greatest obstacle to the foundation of a republic of this kind
in Europe. In order that such a State should subsist in one country
of the Old World, it would be necessary that similar institutions
should be introduced into all the other nations.
I am of opinion that a democratic government tends in
the end to increase the real strength of society; but it can

Democracy in America
never combine, upon a single point and at a given time, so
much power as an aristocracy or a monarchy. If a democratic
country remained during a whole century subject to a republican government, it would probably at the end of that
period be more populous and more prosperous than the
neighboring despotic States. But it would have incurred the
risk of being conquered much oftener than they would in
that lapse of years.
Self-Control of the American Democracy
The American people acquiesces slowly, or frequently does
not acquiesce, in what is beneficial to its interests The faults
of the American democracy are for the most part reparable.
The difficulty which a democracy has in conquering the passions and in subduing the exigencies of the moment, with a
view to the future, is conspicuous in the most trivial occurrences of the United States. The people, which is surrounded
by flatterers, has great difficulty in surmounting its inclinations, and whenever it is solicited to undergo a privation or

any kind of inconvenience, even to attain an end which is

sanctioned by its own rational conviction, it almost always
refuses to comply at first. The deference of the Americans to
the laws has been very justly applauded; but it must be added
that in America the legislation is made by the people and for
the people. Consequently, in the United States the law favors
those classes which are most interested in evading it elsewhere.
It may therefore be supposed that an offensive law, which
should not be acknowledged to be one of immediate utility,
would either not be enacted or would not be obeyed.
In America there is no law against fraudulent bankruptcies; not because they are few, but because there are a great
number of bankruptcies. The dread of being prosecuted as a
bankrupt acts with more intensity upon the mind of the
majority of the people than the fear of being involved in
losses or ruin by the failure of other parties, and a sort of
guilty tolerance is extended by the public conscience to an
offence which everyone condemns in his individual capacity. In the new States of the Southwest the citizens generally
take justice into their own hands, and murders are of very
frequent occurrence. This arises from the rude manners and

the ignorance of the inhabitants of those deserts, who do
not perceive the utility of investing the law with adequate
force, and who prefer duels to prosecutions.
Someone observed to me one day, in Philadelphia, that
almost all crimes in America are caused by the abuse of intoxicating liquors, which the lower classes can procure in
great abundance, from their excessive cheapness. How comes
it, said I, that you do not put a duty upon brandy? Our
legislators, rejoined my informant, have frequently thought
of this expedient; but the task of putting it in operation is a
difficult one; a revolt might be apprehended, and the members who should vote for a law of this kind would be sure of
losing their seats. Whence I am to infer, replied I, that
the drinking population constitutes the majority in your
country, and that temperance is somewhat unpopular.
When these things are pointed out to the American statesmen, they content themselves with assuring you that time
will operate the necessary change, and that the experience of
evil will teach the people its true interests. This is frequently
true, although a democracy is more liable to error than a
monarch or a body of nobles; the chances of its regaining

the right path when once it has acknowledged its mistake,

are greater also; because it is rarely embarrassed by internal
interests, which conflict with those of the majority, and resist the authority ofreason. But a democracy can only obtain
truth as the result of experience, and many nations may forfeit their existence whilst they are awaiting the consequences
of their errors.
The great privilege of the Americans does not simply consist in their being more enlightened than other nations, but in
their being able to repair the faults they may commit. To which
it must be added, that a democracy cannot derive substantial
benefit from past experience, unless it be arrived at a certain
pitch of knowledge and civilization. There are tribes and peoples
whose education has been so vicious, and whose character presents so strange a mixture of passion, of ignorance, and of
erroneous notions upon all subjects, that they are unable to
discern the causes of their own wretchedness, and they fall a
sacrifice to ills with which they are unacquainted.
I have crossed vast tracts of country that were formerly
inhabited by powerful Indian nations which are now extinct;
I have myself passed some time in the midst of mutilated

Democracy in America
tribes, which witness the daily decline of their numerical
strength and of the glory of their independence; and I have
heard these Indians themselves anticipate the impending
doom of their race. Every European can perceive means which
would rescue these unfortunate beings from inevitable destruction. They alone are insensible to the expedient; they
feel the woe which year after year heaps upon their heads,
but they will perish to a man without accepting the remedy.
It would be necessary to employ force to induce them to
submit to the protection and the constraint of civilization.
The incessant revolutions which have convulsed the South
American provinces for the last quarter of a century have
frequently been adverted to with astonishment, and expectations have been expressed that those nations would speedily return to their natural state. But can it be affirmed that
the turmoil of revolution is not actually the most natural
state of the South American Spaniards at the present time?
In that country society is plunged into difficulties from which
all its efforts are insufficient to rescue it. The inhabitants of
that fair portion of the Western Hemisphere seem obstinately
bent on pursuing the work of inward havoc. If they fall into

a momentary repose from the effects of exhaustion, that repose prepares them for a fresh state of frenzy. When I consider their condition, which alternates between misery and
crime, I should be inclined to believe that despotism itself
would be a benefit to them, if it were possible that the words
despotism and benefit could ever be united in my mind.
Conduct Of Foreign Affairs By The American Democracy
Direction given to the foreign policy of the United States by
Washington and Jefferson Almost all the defects inherent in
democratic institutions are brought to light in the conduct of
foreign affairs Their advantages are less perceptible.
We have seen that the Federal Constitution entrusts the permanent direction of the external interests of the nation to
the President and the Senate,* which tends in some degree
*The President, says the Constitution, Art. II, sect. 2, Section 2,
shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two-thirds of the senators present
concur. The reader is reminded that the senators are returned for
a term of six years, and that they are chosen by the legislature of
each State.


to detach the general foreign policy of the Union from the
control of the people. It cannot therefore be asserted with
truth that the external affairs of State are conducted by the
The policy of America owes its rise to Washington, and
after him to Jefferson, who established those principles which
it observes at the present day. Washington said in the admirable letter which he addressed to his fellow-citizens, and
which may be looked upon as his political bequest to the
country: The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to
have with them as little political connection as possible. So
far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a
set of primary interests which to us have none, or a very
remote relation. Hence, she must be engaged in frequent
controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to
our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to
implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities. Our detached and dis-

tant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different

course. If we remain one people, under an efficient government, the period is not far off when we may defy material
injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an
attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent
nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon
us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when
we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel. Why forego the advantages of so peculiar
a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground?
Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of
Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of
European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice? It
is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with
any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are
now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold
the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it; therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense;

Democracy in America
but in my opinion it is unnecessary, and would be unwise, to
extend them. Taking care always to keep ourselves, by suitable establishments, in a respectable defensive posture, we
may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary
emergencies. In a previous part of the same letter Washington makes the following admirable and just remark: The
nation which indulges towards another an habitual hatred
or an habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave
to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.
The political conduct of Washington was always guided
by these maxims. He succeeded in maintaining his country
in a state of peace whilst all the other nations of the globe
were at war; and he laid it down as a fundamental doctrine,
that the true interest of the Americans consisted in a perfect
neutrality with regard to the internal dissensions of the European Powers.
Jefferson went still further, and he introduced a maxim into
the policy of the Union, which affirms that the Americans
ought never to solicit any privileges from foreign nations, in
order not to be obliged to grant similar privileges themselves.

These two principles, which were so plain and so just as to

be adapted to the capacity of the populace, have greatly simplified the foreign policy of the United States. As the Union
takes no part in the affairs of Europe, it has, properly speaking, no foreign interests to discuss, since it has at present no
powerful neighbors on the American continent. The country
is as much removed from the passions of the Old World by its
position as by the line of policy which it has chosen, and it is
neither called upon to repudiate nor to espouse the conflicting interests of Europe; whilst the dissensions of the New World
are still concealed within the bosom of the future.
The Union is free from all pre-existing obligations, and it
is consequently enabled to profit by the experience of the
old nations of Europe, without being obliged, as they are, to
make the best of the past, and to adapt it to their present
circumstances; or to accept that immense inheritance which
they derive from their forefathers an inheritance of glory
mingled with calamities, and of alliances conflicting with
national antipathies. The foreign policy of the United States
is reduced by its very nature to await the chances of the future history of the nation, and for the present it consists more

in abstaining from interference than in exerting its activity.
It is therefore very difficult to ascertain, at present, what
degree of sagacity the American democracy will display in
the conduct of the foreign policy of the country; and upon
this point its adversaries, as well as its advocates, must suspend their judgment. As for myself I have no hesitation in
avowing my conviction, that it is most especially in the conduct of foreign relations that democratic governments appear to me to be decidedly inferior to governments carried
on upon different principles. Experience, instruction, and
habit may almost always succeed in creating a species of practical discretion in democracies, and that science of the daily
occurrences of life which is called good sense. Good sense
may suffice to direct the ordinary course of society; and
amongst a people whose education has been provided for,
the advantages of democratic liberty in the internal affairs of
the country may more than compensate for the evils inherent in a democratic government. But such is not always the
case in the mutual relations of foreign nations.
Foreign politics demand scarcely any of those qualities
which a democracy possesses; and they require, on the con-

trary, the perfect use of almost all those faculties in which it

is deficient. Democracy is favorable to the increase of the
internal resources of the State; it tends to diffuse a moderate
independence; it promotes the growth of public spirit, and
fortifies the respect which is entertained for law in all classes
of society; and these are advantages which only exercise an
indirect influence over the relations which one people bears
to another. But a democracy is unable to regulate the details
of an important undertaking, to persevere in a design, and
to work out its execution in the presence of serious obstacles.
It cannot combine its measures with secrecy, and it will not
await their consequences with patience. These are qualities
which more especially belong to an individual or to an aristocracy; and they are precisely the means by which an individual people attains to a predominant position.
If, on the contrary, we observe the natural defects of aristocracy, we shall find that their influence is comparatively
innoxious in the direction of the external affairs of a State.
The capital fault of which aristocratic bodies may be accused
is that they are more apt to contrive their own advantage
than that of the mass of the people. In foreign politics it is

Democracy in America
rare for the interest of the aristocracy to be in any way distinct from that of the people.
The propensity which democracies have to obey the impulse of passion rather than the suggestions of prudence,
and to abandon a mature design for the gratification of a
momentary caprice, was very clearly seen in America on the
breaking out of the French Revolution. It was then as evident to the simplest capacity as it is at the present time that
the interest of the Americans forbade them to take any part
in the contest which was about to deluge Europe with blood,
but which could by no means injure the welfare of their own
country. Nevertheless the sympathies of the people declared
themselves with so much violence in behalf of France that
nothing but the inflexible character of Washington, and the
immense popularity which he enjoyed, could have prevented
the Americans from declaring war against England. And even
then, the exertions which the austere reason of that great
man made to repress the generous but imprudent passions
of his fellow-citizens, very nearly deprived him of the sole
recompense which he had ever claimed that of his countrys
love. The majority then reprobated the line of policy which

he adopted, and which has since been unanimously approved

by the nation.* If the Constitution and the favor of the public had not entrusted the direction of the foreign affairs of
the country to Washington, it is certain that the American
nation would at that time have taken the very measures which
it now condemns.
*See the fifth volume of Marshalls Life of Washington. In
a government constituted like that of the United States, he
says, it is impossible for the chief magistrate, however firm
he may be, to oppose for any length of time the torrent of
popular opinion; and the prevalent opinion of that day
seemed to incline to war. In fact, in the session of Congress
held at the time, it was frequently seen that Washington had
lost the majority in the House of Representatives. The violence of the language used against him in public was extreme, and in a political meeting they did not scruple to
compare him indirectly to the treacherous Arnold. By the
opposition, says Marshall, the friends of the administration were declared to be an aristocratic and corrupt faction,
who, from a desire to introduce monarchy, were hostile to
France and under the influence of Britain; that they were a
paper nobility, whose extreme sensibility at every measure
which threatened the funds, induced a tame submission to
injuries and insults, which the interests and honor of the
nation required them to resist.

Almost all the nations which have ever exercised a powerful influence upon the destinies of the world by conceiving,
following up, and executing vast designs from the Romans
to the English have been governed by aristocratic institutions. Nor will this be a subject of wonder when we recollect
that nothing in the world has so absolute a fixity of purpose
as an aristocracy. The mass of the people may be led astray
by ignorance or passion; the mind of a king may be biased,
and his perseverance in his designs may be shaken besides
which a king is not immortal but an aristocratic body is
too numerous to be led astray by the blandishments of intrigue, and yet not numerous enough to yield readily to the
intoxicating influence of unreflecting passion: it has the energy of a firm and enlightened individual, added to the power
which it derives from perpetuity.

Chapter XIV: Advantages American Society

Derive From Democracy Part I
What the Real Advantages Are Which American Society
Derives from the Government of the Democracy
Before I enter upon the subject of the present chapter I am
induced to remind the reader of what I have more than once
adverted to in the course of this book. The political institutions of the United States appear to me to be one of the
forms of government which a democracy may adopt; but I
do not regard the American Constitution as the best, or as
the only one, which a democratic people may establish. In
showing the advantages which the Americans derive from
the government of democracy, I am therefore very far from
meaning, or from believing, that similar advantages can only
be obtained from the same laws.


Democracy in America
General Tendency of the Laws under the Rule of the
American Democracy, and Habits of Those Who Apply
Defects of a democratic government easy to be discovered
Its advantages only to be discerned by long observation
Democracy in America often inexpert, but the general tendency of the laws advantageous In the American democracy public officers have no permanent interests distinct from
those of the majority Result of this state of things.
The defects and the weaknesses of a democratic government
may very readily be discovered; they are demonstrated by
the most flagrant instances, whilst its beneficial influence is
less perceptibly exercised. A single glance suffices to detect
its evil consequences, but its good qualities can only be discerned by long observation. The laws of the American democracy are frequently defective or incomplete; they sometimes attack vested rights, or give a sanction to others which
are dangerous to the community; but even if they were good,
the frequent changes which they undergo would be an evil.

How comes it, then, that the American republics prosper

and maintain their position?
In the consideration of laws a distinction must be carefully observed between the end at which they aim and the
means by which they are directed to that end, between their
absolute and their relative excellence. If it be the intention of
the legislator to favor the interests of the minority at the
expense of the majority, and if the measures he takes are so
combined as to accomplish the object he has in view with
the least possible expense of time and exertion, the law may
be well drawn up, although its purpose be bad; and the more
efficacious it is, the greater is the mischief which it causes.
Democratic laws generally tend to promote the welfare of
the greatest possible number; for they emanate from the
majority of the citizens, who are subject to error, but who
cannot have an interest opposed to their own advantage. The
laws of an aristocracy tend, on the contrary, to concentrate
wealth and power in the hands of the minority, because an
aristocracy, by its very nature, constitutes a minority. It may
therefore be asserted, as a general proposition, that the purpose of a democracy in the conduct of its legislation is useful

to a greater number of citizens than that of an aristocracy.
This is, however, the sum total of its advantages.
Aristocracies are infinitely more expert in the science of
legislation than democracies ever can be. They are possessed
of a self-control which protects them from the errors of temporary excitement, and they form lasting designs which they
mature with the assistance of favorable opportunities. Aristocratic government proceeds with the dexterity of art; it
understands how to make the collective force of all its laws
converge at the same time to a given point. Such is not the
case with democracies, whose laws are almost always ineffective or inopportune. The means of democracy are therefore
more imperfect than those of aristocracy, and the measures
which it unwittingly adopts are frequently opposed to its
own cause; but the object it has in view is more useful.
Let us now imagine a community so organized by nature,
or by its constitution, that it can support the transitory action
of bad laws, and that it can await, without destruction, the
general tendency of the legislation: we shall then be able to
conceive that a democratic government, notwithstanding its
defects, will be most fitted to conduce to the prosperity of this

community. This is precisely what has occurred in the United

States; and I repeat, what I have before remarked, that the
great advantage of the Americans consists in their being able
to commit faults which they may afterward repair.
An analogous observation may be made respecting public
officers. It is easy to perceive that the American democracy
frequently errs in the choice of the individuals to whom it
entrusts the power of the administration; but it is more difficult to say why the State prospers under their rule. In the
first place it is to be remarked, that if in a democratic State
the governors have less honesty and less capacity than elsewhere, the governed, on the other hand, are more enlightened and more attentive to their interests. As the people in
democracies is more incessantly vigilant in its affairs and more
jealous of its rights, it prevents its representatives from abandoning that general line of conduct which its own interest
prescribes. In the second place, it must be remembered that
if the democratic magistrate is more apt to misuse his power,
he possesses it for a shorter period of time. But there is yet
another reason which is still more general and conclusive. It
is no doubt of importance to the welfare of nations that they

Democracy in America
should be governed by men of talents and virtue; but it is
perhaps still more important that the interests of those men
should not differ from the interests of the community at
large; for, if such were the case, virtues of a high order might
become useless, and talents might be turned to a bad account. I say that it is important that the interests of the persons in authority should not conflict with or oppose the interests of the community at large; but I do not insist upon
their having the same interests as the whole population, because I am not aware that such a state of things ever existed
in any country.
No political form has hitherto been discovered which is
equally favorable to the prosperity and the development of
all the classes into which society is divided. These classes
continue to form, as it were, a certain number of distinct
nations in the same nation; and experience has shown that it
is no less dangerous to place the fate of these classes exclusively in the hands of any one of them than it is to make one
people the arbiter of the destiny of another. When the rich
alone govern, the interest of the poor is always endangered;
and when the poor make the laws, that of the rich incurs

very serious risks. The advantage of democracy does not consist, therefore, as has sometimes been asserted, in favoring
the prosperity of all, but simply in contributing to the wellbeing of the greatest possible number.
The men who are entrusted with the direction of public
affairs in the United States are frequently inferior, both in
point of capacity and of morality, to those whom aristocratic
institutions would raise to power. But their interest is identified and confounded with that of the majority of their fellow-citizens. They may frequently be faithless and frequently
mistaken, but they will never systematically adopt a line of
conduct opposed to the will of the majority; and it is impossible that they should give a dangerous or an exclusive tendency to the government.
The mal-administration of a democratic magistrate is a
mere isolated fact, which only occurs during the short period for which he is elected. Corruption and incapacity do
not act as common interests, which may connect men permanently with one another. A corrupt or an incapable magistrate will not concert his measures with another magistrate,
simply because that individual is as corrupt and as incapable

as himself; and these two men will never unite their endeavors to promote the corruption and inaptitude of their remote posterity. The ambition and the manoeuvres of the one
will serve, on the contrary, to unmask the other. The vices of
a magistrate, in democratic states, are usually peculiar to his
own person.
But under aristocratic governments public men are swayed
by the interest of their order, which, if it is sometimes confounded with the interests of the majority, is very frequently
distinct from them. This interest is the common and lasting
bond which unites them together; it induces them to coalesce, and to combine their efforts in order to attain an end
which does not always ensure the greatest happiness of the
greatest number; and it serves not only to connect the persons in authority, but to unite them to a considerable portion of the community, since a numerous body of citizens
belongs to the aristocracy, without being invested with official functions. The aristocratic magistrate is therefore constantly supported by a portion of the community, as well as
by the Government of which he is a member.
The common purpose which connects the interest of the

magistrates in aristocracies with that of a portion of their

contemporaries identifies it with that of future generations;
their influence belongs to the future as much as to the present.
The aristocratic magistrate is urged at the same time toward
the same point by the passions of the community, by his
own, and I may almost add by those of his posterity. Is it,
then, wonderful that he does not resist such repeated impulses? And indeed aristocracies are often carried away by
the spirit of their order without being corrupted by it; and
they unconsciously fashion society to their own ends, and
prepare it for their own descendants.
The English aristocracy is perhaps the most liberal which
ever existed, and no body of men has ever, uninterruptedly,
furnished so many honorable and enlightened individuals
to the government of a country. It cannot, however, escape
observation that in the legislation of England the good of
the poor has been sacrificed to the advantage of the rich, and
the rights of the majority to the privileges of the few. The
consequence is, that England, at the present day, combines
the extremes of fortune in the bosom of her society, and her
perils and calamities are almost equal to her power and her

Democracy in America
In the United States, where the public officers have no
interests to promote connected with their caste, the general
and constant influence of the Government is beneficial, although the individuals who conduct it are frequently unskilful
and sometimes contemptible. There is indeed a secret tendency in democratic institutions to render the exertions of
the citizens subservient to the prosperity of the community,
notwithstanding their private vices and mistakes; whilst in
aristocratic institutions there is a secret propensity which,
notwithstanding the talents and the virtues of those who conduct the government, leads them to contribute to the evils
which oppress their fellow-creatures. In aristocratic governments public men may frequently do injuries which they do
not intend, and in democratic states they produce advantages which they never thought of.

*The legislation of England for the forty years is certainly

not fairly open to this criticism, which was written before
the Reform Bill of 1832, and accordingly Great Britain has
thus far escaped and surmounted the perils and calamities to
which she seemed to be exposed.

Public Spirit In The United States

Patriotism of instinct Patriotism of reflection Their different characteristics Nations ought to strive to acquire the
second when the first has disappeared Efforts of the Americans to it Interest of the individual intimately connected
with that of the country.
There is one sort of patriotic attachment which principally
arises from that instinctive, disinterested, and undefinable
feeling which connects the affections of man with his birthplace. This natural fondness is united to a taste for ancient
customs, and to a reverence for ancestral traditions of the
past; those who cherish it love their country as they love the
mansions of their fathers. They enjoy the tranquillity which
it affords them; they cling to the peaceful habits which they
have contracted within its bosom; they are attached to the
reminiscences which it awakens, and they are even pleased
by the state of obedience in which they are placed. This patriotism is sometimes stimulated by religious enthusiasm, and
then it is capable of making the most prodigious efforts. It is

in itself a kind of religion; it does not reason, but it acts from
the impulse of faith and of sentiment. By some nations the
monarch has been regarded as a personification of the country; and the fervor of patriotism being converted into the
fervor of loyalty, they took a sympathetic pride in his conquests, and gloried in his power. At one time, under the ancient monarchy, the French felt a sort of satisfaction in the
sense of their dependence upon the arbitrary pleasure of their
king, and they were wont to say with pride, We are the
subjects of the most powerful king in the world.
But, like all instinctive passions, this kind of patriotism is
more apt to prompt transient exertion than to supply the
motives of continuous endeavor. It may save the State in
critical circumstances, but it will not unfrequently allow the
nation to decline in the midst of peace. Whilst the manners
of a people are simple and its faith unshaken, whilst society
is steadily based upon traditional institutions whose legitimacy has never been contested, this instinctive patriotism is
wont to endure.
But there is another species of attachment to a country
which is more rational than the one we have been describ-

ing. It is perhaps less generous and less ardent, but it is more

fruitful and more lasting; it is coeval with the spread of knowledge, it is nurtured by the laws, it grows by the exercise of
civil rights, and, in the end, it is confounded with the personal interest of the citizen. A man comprehends the influence which the prosperity of his country has upon his own
welfare; he is aware that the laws authorize him to contribute his assistance to that prosperity, and he labors to promote it as a portion of his interest in the first place, and as a
portion of his right in the second.
But epochs sometimes occur, in the course of the existence
of a nation, at which the ancient customs of a people are
changed, public morality destroyed, religious belief disturbed,
and the spell of tradition broken, whilst the diffusion of
knowledge is yet imperfect, and the civil rights of the community are ill secured, or confined within very narrow limits. The country then assumes a dim and dubious shape in
the eyes of the citizens; they no longer behold it in the soil
which they inhabit, for that soil is to them a dull inanimate
clod; nor in the usages of their forefathers, which they have
been taught to look upon as a debasing yoke; nor in religion,

Democracy in America
for of that they doubt; nor in the laws, which do not originate in their own authority; nor in the legislator, whom they
fear and despise. The country is lost to their senses, they can
neither discover it under its own nor under borrowed features, and they entrench themselves within the dull precincts
of a narrow egotism. They are emancipated from prejudice
without having acknowledged the empire of reason; they are
neither animated by the instinctive patriotism of monarchical subjects nor by the thinking patriotism of republican citizens; but they have stopped halfway between the two, in the
midst of confusion and of distress.
In this predicament, to retreat is impossible; for a people
cannot restore the vivacity of its earlier times, any more than
a man can return to the innocence and the bloom of childhood; such things may be regretted, but they cannot be renewed. The only thing, then, which remains to be done is to
proceed, and to accelerate the union of private with public
interests, since the period of disinterested patriotism is gone
by forever.
I am certainly very far from averring that, in order to obtain this result, the exercise of political rights should be im-

mediately granted to all the members of the community. But

I maintain that the most powerful, and perhaps the only,
means of interesting men in the welfare of their country which
we still possess is to make them partakers in the Government. At the present time civic zeal seems to me to be inseparable from the exercise of political rights; and I hold that
the number of citizens will be found to augment or to decrease in Europe in proportion as those rights are extended.
In the United States the inhabitants were thrown but as yesterday upon the soil which they now occupy, and they brought
neither customs nor traditions with them there; they meet
each other for the first time with no previous acquaintance; in
short, the instinctive love of their country can scarcely exist in
their minds; but everyone takes as zealous an interest in the
affairs of his township, his county, and of the whole State, as if
they were his own, because everyone, in his sphere, takes an
active part in the government of society.
The lower orders in the United States are alive to the perception of the influence exercised by the general prosperity
upon their own welfare; and simple as this observation is, it
is one which is but too rarely made by the people. But in

America the people regards this prosperity as the result of its
own exertions; the citizen looks upon the fortune of the public
as his private interest, and he co-operates in its success, not
so much from a sense of pride or of duty, as from what I
shall venture to term cupidity.
It is unnecessary to study the institutions and the history
of the Americans in order to discover the truth of this remark, for their manners render it sufficiently evident. As the
American participates in all that is done in his country, he
thinks himself obliged to defend whatever may be censured;
for it is not only his country which is attacked upon these
occasions, but it is himself. The consequence is, that his national pride resorts to a thousand artifices, and to all the
petty tricks of individual vanity.
Nothing is more embarrassing in the ordinary intercourse
of life than this irritable patriotism of the Americans. A
stranger may be very well inclined to praise many of the institutions of their country, but he begs permission to blame
some of the peculiarities which he observes a permission
which is, however, inexorably refused. America is therefore a
free country, in which, lest anybody should be hurt by your

remarks, you are not allowed to speak freely of private individuals, or of the State, of the citizens or of the authorities,
of public or of private undertakings, or, in short, of anything
at all, except it be of the climate and the soil; and even then
Americans will be found ready to defend either the one or
the other, as if they had been contrived by the inhabitants of
the country.
In our times option must be made between the patriotism
of all and the government of a few; for the force and activity
which the first confers are irreconcilable with the guarantees
of tranquillity which the second furnishes.
Notion Of Rights In The United States
No great people without a notion of rights How the notion of rights can be given to people Respect of rights in
the United States Whence it arises.
After the idea of virtue, I know no higher principle than that
of right; or, to speak more accurately, these two ideas are
commingled in one. The idea of right is simply that of virtue

Democracy in America
introduced into the political world. It is the idea of right
which enabled men to define anarchy and tyranny; and which
taught them to remain independent without arrogance, as
well as to obey without servility. The man who submits to
violence is debased by his compliance; but when he obeys
the mandate of one who possesses that right of authority
which he acknowledges in a fellow-creature, he rises in some
measure above the person who delivers the command. There
are no great men without virtue, and there are no great nations it may almost be added that there would be no society without the notion of rights; for what is the condition
of a mass of rational and intelligent beings who are only
united together by the bond of force?
I am persuaded that the only means which we possess at
the present time of inculcating the notion of rights, and of
rendering it, as it were, palpable to the senses, is to invest all
the members of the community with the peaceful exercise of
certain rights: this is very clearly seen in children, who are
men without the strength and the experience of manhood.
When a child begins to move in the midst of the objects
which surround him, he is instinctively led to turn every-

thing which he can lay his hands upon to his own purposes;
he has no notion of the property of others; but as he gradually learns the value of things, and begins to perceive that he
may in his turn be deprived of his possessions, he becomes
more circumspect, and he observes those rights in others
which he wishes to have respected in himself. The principle
which the child derives from the possession of his toys is
taught to the man by the objects which he may call his own.
In America those complaints against property in general
which are so frequent in Europe are never heard, because in
America there are no paupers; and as everyone has property
of his own to defend, everyone recognizes the principle upon
which he holds it.
The same thing occurs in the political world. In America
the lowest classes have conceived a very high notion of political rights, because they exercise those rights; and they refrain from attacking those of other people, in order to ensure their own from attack. Whilst in Europe the same classes
sometimes recalcitrate even against the supreme power, the
American submits without a murmur to the authority of the
pettiest magistrate.

This truth is exemplified by the most trivial details of national peculiarities. In France very few pleasures are exclusively reserved for the higher classes; the poor are admitted
wherever the rich are received, and they consequently behave with propriety, and respect whatever contributes to the
enjoyments in which they themselves participate. In England,
where wealth has a monopoly of amusement as well as of
power, complaints are made that whenever the poor happen
to steal into the enclosures which are reserved for the pleasures of the rich, they commit acts of wanton mischief: can
this be wondered at, since care has been taken that they should
have nothing to lose?*
The government of democracy brings the notion of political rights to the level of the humblest citizens, just as the
dissemination of wealth brings the notion of property within
the reach of all the members of the community; and I confess that, to my mind, this is one of its greatest advantages. I
do not assert that it is easy to teach men to exercise political
*This, too, has been amended by much larger provisions for
the amusements of the people in public parks, gardens, museums, etc.; and the conduct of the people in these places of
amusement has improved in the same proportion.

rights; but I maintain that, when it is possible, the effects

which result from it are highly important; and I add that, if
there ever was a time at which such an attempt ought to be
made, that time is our own. It is clear that the influence of
religious belief is shaken, and that the notion of divine rights
is declining; it is evident that public morality is vitiated, and
the notion of moral rights is also disappearing: these are general symptoms of the substitution of argument for faith, and
of calculation for the impulses of sentiment. If, in the midst
of this general disruption, you do not succeed in connecting
the notion of rights with that of personal interest, which is
the only immutable point in the human heart, what means
will you have of governing the world except by fear? When I
am told that, since the laws are weak and the populace is
wild, since passions are excited and the authority of virtue is
paralyzed, no measures must be taken to increase the rights
of the democracy, I reply, that it is for these very reasons that
some measures of the kind must be taken; and I am persuaded that governments are still more interested in taking
them than society at large, because governments are liable to
be destroyed and society cannot perish.


Democracy in America
I am not, however, inclined to exaggerate the example
which America furnishes. In those States the people are invested with political rights at a time when they could scarcely
be abused, for the citizens were few in number and simple in
their manners. As they have increased, the Americans have
not augmented the power of the democracy, but they have,
if I may use the expression, extended its dominions. It cannot be doubted that the moment at which political rights
are granted to a people that had before been without them is
a very critical, though it be a necessary one. A child may kill
before he is aware of the value of life; and he may deprive
another person of his property before he is aware that his
own may be taken away from him. The lower orders, when
first they are invested with political rights, stand, in relation
to those rights, in the same position as the child does to the
whole of nature, and the celebrated adage may then be applied to them, Homo puer robustus. This truth may even be
perceived in America. The States in which the citizens have
enjoyed their rights longest are those in which they make
the best use of them.
It cannot be repeated too often that nothing is more fertile

in prodigies than the art of being free; but there is nothing

more arduous than the apprenticeship of liberty. Such is not
the case with despotic institutions: despotism often promises to make amends for a thousand previous ills; it supports
the right, it protects the oppressed, and it maintains public
order. The nation is lulled by the temporary prosperity which
accrues to it, until it is roused to a sense of its own misery.
Liberty, on the contrary, is generally established in the midst
of agitation, it is perfected by civil discord, and its benefits
cannot be appreciated until it is already old.



Chapter XIV: Advantages American Society

Derive from Democracy Part II
Respect for the Law in the United States
Respect of the Americans for the law Parental affection
which they entertain for it Personal interest of everyone to
increase the authority of the law.
It is not always feasible to consult the whole people, either
directly or indirectly, in the formation of the law; but it cannot be denied that, when such a measure is possible the authority of the law is very much augmented. This popular
origin, which impairs the excellence and the wisdom of legislation, contributes prodigiously to increase its power. There
is an amazing strength in the expression of the determination of a whole people, and when it declares itself the imagination of those who are most inclined to contest it is overawed by its authority. The truth of this fact is very well known
by parties, and they consequently strive to make out a majority whenever they can. If they have not the greater num-

ber of voters on their side, they assert that the true majority
abstained from voting; and if they are foiled even there, they
have recourse to the body of those persons who had no votes
to give.
In the United States, except slaves, servants, and paupers
in the receipt of relief from the townships, there is no class of
persons who do not exercise the elective franchise, and who
do not indirectly contribute to make the laws. Those who
design to attack the laws must consequently either modify
the opinion of the nation or trample upon its decision.
A second reason, which is still more weighty, may be further adduced; in the United States everyone is personally
interested in enforcing the obedience of the whole community to the law; for as the minority may shortly rally the
majority to its principles, it is interested in professing that
respect for the decrees of the legislator which it may soon
have occasion to claim for its own. However irksome an enactment may be, the citizen of the United States complies
with it, not only because it is the work of the majority, but
because it originates in his own authority, and he regards it
as a contract to which he is himself a party.

Democracy in America
In the United States, then, that numerous and turbulent
multitude does not exist which always looks upon the law as
its natural enemy, and accordingly surveys it with fear and
with fear and with distrust. It is impossible, on the other
hand, not to perceive that all classes display the utmost reliance upon the legislation of their country, and that they are
attached to it by a kind of parental affection.
I am wrong, however, in saying all classes; for as in America
the European scale of authority is inverted, the wealthy are
there placed in a position analogous to that of the poor in
the Old World, and it is the opulent classes which frequently
look upon the law with suspicion. I have already observed
that the advantage of democracy is not, as has been sometimes asserted, that it protects the interests of the whole community, but simply that it protects those of the majority. In
the United States, where the poor rule, the rich have always
some reason to dread the abuses of their power. This natural
anxiety of the rich may produce a sullen dissatisfaction, but
society is not disturbed by it; for the same reason which induces the rich to withhold their confidence in the legislative
authority makes them obey its mandates; their wealth, which

prevents them from making the law, prevents them from

withstanding it. Amongst civilized nations revolts are rarely
excited, except by such persons as have nothing to lose by
them; and if the laws of a democracy are not always worthy
of respect, at least they always obtain it; for those who usually infringe the laws have no excuse for not complying with
the enactments they have themselves made, and by which
they are themselves benefited, whilst the citizens whose interests might be promoted by the infraction of them are induced, by their character and their stations, to submit to the
decisions of the legislature, whatever they may be. Besides
which, the people in America obeys the law not only because it emanates from the popular authority, but because
that authority may modify it in any points which may prove
vexatory; a law is observed because it is a self-imposed evil in
the first place, and an evil of transient duration in the second.


Activity Which Pervades All the Branches of the Body
Politic in the United States; Influence Which It Exercises
upon Society
More difficult to conceive the political activity which pervades the United States than the freedom and equality which
reign there The great activity which perpetually agitates
the legislative bodies is only an episode to the general activity Difficult for an American to confine himself to his own
business Political agitation extends to all social intercourse
Commercial activity of the Americans partly attributable
to this cause Indirect advantages which society derives from
a democratic government.
On passing from a country in which free institutions are
established to one where they do not exist, the traveller is
struck by the change; in the former all is bustle and activity,
in the latter everything is calm and motionless. In the one,
amelioration and progress are the general topics of inquiry;
in the other, it seems as if the community only aspired to
repose in the enjoyment of the advantages which it has ac-

quired. Nevertheless, the country which exerts itself so strenuously to promote its welfare is generally more wealthy and
more prosperous than that which appears to be so contented
with its lot; and when we compare them together, we can
scarcely conceive how so many new wants are daily felt in
the former, whilst so few seem to occur in the latter.
If this remark is applicable to those free countries in which
monarchical and aristocratic institutions subsist, it is still more
striking with regard to democratic republics. In these States
it is not only a portion of the people which is busied with
the amelioration of its social condition, but the whole community is engaged in the task; and it is not the exigencies
and the convenience of a single class for which a provision is
to be made, but the exigencies and the convenience of all
ranks of life.
It is not impossible to conceive the surpassing liberty which
the Americans enjoy; some idea may likewise be formed of
the extreme equality which subsists amongst them, but the
political activity which pervades the United States must be
seen in order to be understood. No sooner do you set foot
upon the American soil than you are stunned by a kind of

Democracy in America
tumult; a confused clamor is heard on every side; and a thousand simultaneous voices demand the immediate satisfaction of their social wants. Everything is in motion around
you; here, the people of one quarter of a town are met to
decide upon the building of a church; there, the election of a
representative is going on; a little further the delegates of a
district are posting to the town in order to consult upon
some local improvements; or in another place the laborers of
a village quit their ploughs to deliberate upon the project of
a road or a public school. Meetings are called for the sole
purpose of declaring their disapprobation of the line of conduct pursued by the Government; whilst in other assemblies
the citizens salute the authorities of the day as the fathers of
their country. Societies are formed which regard drunkenness as the principal cause of the evils under which the State
labors, and which solemnly bind themselves to give a constant example of temperance.*
*At the time of my stay in the United States the temperance
societies already consisted of more than 270,000 members,
and their effect had been to diminish the consumption of
fermented liquors by 500,000 gallons per annum in the State
of Pennsylvania alone.

The great political agitation of the American legislative bodies, which is the only kind of excitement that attracts the
attention of foreign countries, is a mere episode or a sort of
continuation of that universal movement which originates
in the lowest classes of the people and extends successively
to all the ranks of society. It is impossible to spend more
efforts in the pursuit of enjoyment.
The cares of political life engross a most prominent place
in the occupation of a citizen in the United States, and almost the only pleasure of which an American has any idea is
to take a part in the Government, and to discuss the part he
has taken. This feeling pervades the most trifling habits of
life; even the women frequently attend public meetings and
listen to political harangues as a recreation after their household labors. Debating clubs are to a certain extent a substitute for theatrical entertainments: an American cannot converse, but he can discuss; and when he attempts to talk he
falls into a dissertation. He speaks to you as if he was addressing a meeting; and if he should chance to warm in the
course of the discussion, he will infallibly say, Gentlemen,
to the person with whom he is conversing.

In some countries the inhabitants display a certain repugnance to avail themselves of the political privileges with which
the law invests them; it would seem that they set too high a
value upon their time to spend it on the interests of the community; and they prefer to withdraw within the exact limits
of a wholesome egotism, marked out by four sunk fences
and a quickset hedge. But if an American were condemned
to confine his activity to his own affairs, he would be robbed
of one half of his existence; he would feel an immense void
in the life which he is accustomed to lead, and his wretchedness would be unbearable.* I am persuaded that, if ever a
despotic government is established in America, it will find it
more difficult to surmount the habits which free institutions
have engendered than to conquer the attachment of the citizens to freedom.
This ceaseless agitation which democratic government has
introduced into the political world influences all social in*The same remark was made at Rome under the first Caesars.
Montesquieu somewhere alludes to the excessive despondency
of certain Roman citizens who, after the excitement of political life, were all at once flung back into the stagnation of
private life.

tercourse. I am not sure that upon the whole this is not the
greatest advantage of democracy. And I am much less inclined to applaud it for what it does than for what it causes
to be done. It is incontestable that the people frequently conducts public business very ill; but it is impossible that the
lower orders should take a part in public business without
extending the circle of their ideas, and without quitting the
ordinary routine of their mental acquirements. The humblest individual who is called upon to co-operate in the government of society acquires a certain degree of self-respect;
and as he possesses authority, he can command the services
of minds much more enlightened than his own. He is canvassed by a multitude of applicants, who seek to deceive him
in a thousand different ways, but who instruct him by their
deceit. He takes a part in political undertakings which did
not originate in his own conception, but which give him a
taste for undertakings of the kind. New ameliorations are
daily pointed out in the property which he holds in common with others, and this gives him the desire of improving
that property which is more peculiarly his own. He is perhaps neither happier nor better than those who came before

Democracy in America
him, but he is better informed and more active. I have no
doubt that the democratic institutions of the United States,
joined to the physical constitution of the country, are the cause
(not the direct, as is so often asserted, but the indirect cause)
of the prodigious commercial activity of the inhabitants. It is
not engendered by the laws, but the people learns how to promote it by the experience derived from legislation.
When the opponents of democracy assert that a single individual performs the duties which he undertakes much better than the government of the community, it appears to me
that they are perfectly right. The government of an individual, supposing an equality of instruction on either side, is
more consistent, more persevering, and more accurate than
that of a multitude, and it is much better qualified judiciously
to discriminate the characters of the men it employs. If any
deny what I advance, they have certainly never seen a democratic government, or have formed their opinion upon very
partial evidence. It is true that even when local circumstances
and the disposition of the people allow democratic institutions to subsist, they never display a regular and methodical
system of government. Democratic liberty is far from ac-

complishing all the projects it undertakes, with the skill of

an adroit despotism. It frequently abandons them before they
have borne their fruits, or risks them when the consequences
may prove dangerous; but in the end it produces more than
any absolute government, and if it do fewer things well, it
does a greater number of things. Under its sway the transactions of the public administration are not nearly so important as what is done by private exertion. Democracy does
not confer the most skilful kind of government upon the
people, but it produces that which the most skilful governments are frequently unable to awaken, namely, an all-pervading and restless activity, a superabundant force, and an
energy which is inseparable from it, and which may, under
favorable circumstances, beget the most amazing benefits.
These are the true advantages of democracy.
In the present age, when the destinies of Christendom seem
to be in suspense, some hasten to assail democracy as its foe
whilst it is yet in its early growth; and others are ready with
their vows of adoration for this new deity which is springing
forth from chaos: but both parties are very imperfectly acquainted with the object of their hatred or of their desires;

they strike in the dark, and distribute their blows by mere
We must first understand what the purport of society and
the aim of government is held to be. If it be your intention
to confer a certain elevation upon the human mind, and to
teach it to regard the things of this world with generous feelings, to inspire men with a scorn of mere temporal advantage, to give birth to living convictions, and to keep alive the
spirit of honorable devotedness; if you hold it to be a good
thing to refine the habits, to embellish the manners, to cultivate the arts of a nation, and to promote the love of poetry,
of beauty, and of renown; if you would constitute a people
not unfitted to act with power upon all other nations, nor
unprepared for those high enterprises which, whatever be
the result of its efforts, will leave a name forever famous in
time if you believe such to be the principal object of society, you must avoid the government of democracy, which
would be a very uncertain guide to the end you have in view.
But if you hold it to be expedient to divert the moral and
intellectual activity of man to the production of comfort,
and to the acquirement of the necessaries of life; if a clear

understanding be more profitable to man than genius; if your

object be not to stimulate the virtues of heroism, but to create
habits of peace; if you had rather witness vices than crimes
and are content to meet with fewer noble deeds, provided offences be diminished in the same proportion; if, instead of
living in the midst of a brilliant state of society, you are contented to have prosperity around you; if, in short, you are of
opinion that the principal object of a Government is not to
confer the greatest possible share of power and of glory upon
the body of the nation, but to ensure the greatest degree of
enjoyment and the least degree of misery to each of the individuals who compose it if such be your desires, you can have
no surer means of satisfying them than by equalizing the conditions of men, and establishing democratic institutions.
But if the time be passed at which such a choice was possible, and if some superhuman power impel us towards one
or the other of these two governments without consulting
our wishes, let us at least endeavor to make the best of that
which is allotted to us; and let us so inquire into its good and
its evil propensities as to be able to foster the former and
repress the latter to the utmost.

Democracy in America

Chapter XV: Unlimited Power Of Majority, And

Its Consequences Part I
Chapter Summary
Natural strength of the majority in democracies Most of
the American Constitutions have increased this strength by
artificial means How this has been done Pledged delegates Moral power of the majority Opinion as to its
infallibility Respect for its rights, how augmented in the
United States.
Unlimited Power Of The Majority In The United States,
And Its Consequences
The very essence of democratic government consists in the
absolute sovereignty of the majority; for there is nothing in
democratic States which is capable of resisting it. Most of
the American Constitutions have sought to increase this natural strength of the majority by artificial means.*
*We observed, in examining the Federal Constitution, that the efforts of
the legislators of the Union had been diametrically opposed to the present
tendency. The consequence has been that the Federal Government is more
independent in its sphere than that of the States. But the Federal Government scarcely ever interferes in any but external affairs; and the governments of the State are in the governments of the States are in reality the
authorities which direct society in America.

The legislature is, of all political institutions, the one which

is most easily swayed by the wishes of the majority. The
Americans determined that the members of the legislature
should be elected by the people immediately, and for a very
brief term, in order to subject them, not only to the general
convictions, but even to the daily passion, of their constituents. The members of both houses are taken from the same
class in society, and are nominated in the same manner; so
that the modifications of the legislative bodies are almost as
rapid and quite as irresistible as those of a single assembly. It
is to a legislature thus constituted that almost all the authority of the government has been entrusted.
But whilst the law increased the strength of those authorities which of themselves were strong, it enfeebled more and
more those which were naturally weak. It deprived the representatives of the executive of all stability and independence,
and by subjecting them completely to the caprices of the
legislature, it robbed them of the slender influence which
the nature of a democratic government might have allowed
them to retain. In several States the judicial power was also
submitted to the elective discretion of the majority, and in

all of them its existence was made to depend on the pleasure
of the legislative authority, since the representatives were empowered annually to regulate the stipend of the judges.
Custom, however, has done even more than law. A proceeding which will in the end set all the guarantees of representative government at naught is becoming more and more
general in the United States; it frequently happens that the
electors, who choose a delegate, point out a certain line of
conduct to him, and impose upon him a certain number of
positive obligations which he is pledged to fulfil. With the
exception of the tumult, this comes to the same thing as if
the majority of the populace held its deliberations in the
Several other circumstances concur in rendering the power
of the majority in America not only preponderant, but irresistible. The moral authority of the majority is partly based
upon the notion that there is more intelligence and more
wisdom in a great number of men collected together than in
a single individual, and that the quantity of legislators is more
important than their quality. The theory of equality is in fact
applied to the intellect of man: and human pride is thus

assailed in its last retreat by a doctrine which the minority

hesitate to admit, and in which they very slowly concur. Like
all other powers, and perhaps more than all other powers,
the authority of the many requires the sanction of time; at
first it enforces obedience by constraint, but its laws are not
respected until they have long been maintained.
The right of governing society, which the majority supposes itself to derive from its superior intelligence, was introduced into the United States by the first settlers, and this
idea, which would be sufficient of itself to create a free nation, has now been amalgamated with the manners of the
people and the minor incidents of social intercourse.
The French, under the old monarchy, held it for a maxim
(which is still a fundamental principle of the English Constitution) that the King could do no wrong; and if he did do
wrong, the blame was imputed to his advisers. This notion
was highly favorable to habits of obedience, and it enabled
the subject to complain of the law without ceasing to love
and honor the lawgiver. The Americans entertain the same
opinion with respect to the majority.
The moral power of the majority is founded upon yet an283

Democracy in America
other principle, which is, that the interests of the many are to
be preferred to those of the few. It will readily be perceived
that the respect here professed for the rights of the majority
must naturally increase or diminish according to the state of
parties. When a nation is divided into several irreconcilable
factions, the privilege of the majority is often overlooked, because it is intolerable to comply with its demands.
If there existed in America a class of citizens whom the
legislating majority sought to deprive of exclusive privileges
which they had possessed for ages, and to bring down from
an elevated station to the level of the ranks of the multitude,
it is probable that the minority would be less ready to comply with its laws. But as the United States were colonized by
men holding equal rank amongst themselves, there is as yet
no natural or permanent source of dissension between the
interests of its different inhabitants.
There are certain communities in which the persons who
constitute the minority can never hope to draw over the
majority to their side, because they must then give up the
very point which is at issue between them. Thus, an aristocracy can never become a majority whilst it retains its exclu-

sive privileges, and it cannot cede its privileges without ceasing to be an aristocracy.
In the United States political questions cannot be taken
up in so general and absolute a manner, and all parties are
willing to recognize the right of the majority, because they
all hope to turn those rights to their own advantage at some
future time. The majority therefore in that country exercises
a prodigious actual authority, and a moral influence which is
scarcely less preponderant; no obstacles exist which can impede or so much as retard its progress, or which can induce
it to heed the complaints of those whom it crushes upon its
path. This state of things is fatal in itself and dangerous for
the future.
How The Unlimited Power Of The Majority Increases In
America The Instability Of Legislation And Administration
Inherent In Democracy The Americans increase the mutability of the laws which is inherent in democracy by changing the legislature every year, and by investing it with unbounded authority The same effect is produced upon the
administration In America social amelioration is conducted
more energetically but less perseveringly than in Europe.

I have already spoken of the natural defects of democratic
institutions, and they all of them increase at the exact ratio
of the power of the majority. To begin with the most evident
of them all; the mutability of the laws is an evil inherent in
democratic government, because it is natural to democracies
to raise men to power in very rapid succession. But this evil
is more or less sensible in proportion to the authority and
the means of action which the legislature possesses.
In America the authority exercised by the legislative bodies is supreme; nothing prevents them from accomplishing
their wishes with celerity, and with irresistible power, whilst
they are supplied by new representatives every year. That is
to say, the circumstances which contribute most powerfully
to democratic instability, and which admit of the free application of caprice to every object in the State, are here in full
operation. In conformity with this principle, America is, at
the present day, the country in the world where laws last the
shortest time. Almost all the American constitutions have
been amended within the course of thirty years: there is therefore not a single American State which has not modified the
principles of its legislation in that lapse of time. As for the

laws themselves, a single glance upon the archives of the different States of the Union suffices to convince one that in
America the activity of the legislator never slackens. Not that
the American democracy is naturally less stable than any
other, but that it is allowed to follow its capricious propensities in the formation of the laws.*
The omnipotence of the majority, and the rapid as well as
absolute manner in which its decisions are executed in the
United States, has not only the effect of rendering the law
unstable, but it exercises the same influence upon the execution of the law and the conduct of the public administration. As the majority is the only power which it is important
to court, all its projects are taken up with the greatest ardor,
but no sooner is its attention distracted than all this ardor
*The legislative acts promulgated by the State of Massachusetts alone, from the year 1780 to the present time, already
fill three stout volumes; and it must not be forgotten that
the collection to which I allude was published in 1823, when
many old laws which had fallen into disuse were omitted.
The State of Massachusetts, which is not more populous than
a department of France, may be considered as the most stable,
the most consistent, and the most sagacious in its undertakings of the whole Union.

Democracy in America
ceases; whilst in the free States of Europe the administration
is at once independent and secure, so that the projects of the
legislature are put into execution, although its immediate
attention may be directed to other objects.
In America certain ameliorations are undertaken with much
more zeal and activity than elsewhere; in Europe the same
ends are promoted by much less social effort, more continuously applied.
Some years ago several pious individuals undertook to ameliorate the condition of the prisons. The public was excited
by the statements which they put forward, and the regeneration of criminals became a very popular undertaking. New
prisons were built, and for the first time the idea of reforming as well as of punishing the delinquent formed a part of
prison discipline. But this happy alteration, in which the
public had taken so hearty an interest, and which the exertions of the citizens had irresistibly accelerated, could not be
completed in a moment. Whilst the new penitentiaries were
being erected (and it was the pleasure of the majority that
they should be terminated with all possible celerity), the old
prisons existed, which still contained a great number of of-

fenders. These jails became more unwholesome and more

corrupt in proportion as the new establishments were beautified and improved, forming a contrast which may readily
be understood. The majority was so eagerly employed in
founding the new prisons that those which already existed
were forgotten; and as the general attention was diverted to
a novel object, the care which had hitherto been bestowed
upon the others ceased. The salutary regulations of discipline were first relaxed, and afterwards broken; so that in the
immediate neighborhood of a prison which bore witness to
the mild and enlightened spirit of our time, dungeons might
be met with which reminded the visitor of the barbarity of
the Middle Ages.



Chapter XV: Unlimited Power Of Majority, And

Its Consequences -Part II

which is empowered to represent society at large, and to apply the great and general law of justice. Ought such a jury,
which represents society, to have more power than the soci-

Tyranny Of The Majority

ety in which the laws it applies originate?

When I refuse to obey an unjust law, I do not contest the

How the principle of the sovereignty of the people is to be

understood -Impossibility of conceiving a mixed government
The sovereign power must centre somewhere Precautions to be taken to control its action These precautions
have not been taken in the United States Consequences.
I hold it to be an impious and an execrable maxim that,
politically speaking, a people has a right to do whatsoever it
pleases, and yet I have asserted that all authority originates
in the will of the majority. Am I then, in contradiction with
A general law which bears the name of Justice has been
made and sanctioned, not only by a majority of this or that
people, but by a majority of mankind. The rights of every
people are consequently confined within the limits of what
is just. A nation may be considered in the light of a jury

right which the majority has of commanding, but I simply

appeal from the sovereignty of the people to the sovereignty
of mankind. It has been asserted that a people can never
entirely outstep the boundaries of justice and of reason in
those affairs which are more peculiarly its own, and that consequently, full power may fearlessly be given to the majority
by which it is represented. But this language is that of a slave.
A majority taken collectively may be regarded as a being
whose opinions, and most frequently whose interests, are
opposed to those of another being, which is styled a minority. If it be admitted that a man, possessing absolute power,
may misuse that power by wronging his adversaries, why
should a majority not be liable to the same reproach? Men
are not apt to change their characters by agglomeration; nor
does their patience in the presence of obstacles increase with

Democracy in America
the consciousness of their strength.* And for these reasons I
can never willingly invest any number of my fellow- creatures with that unlimited authority which I should refuse to
any one of them.
I do not think that it is possible to combine several principles in the same government, so as at the same time to
maintain freedom, and really to oppose them to one another.
The form of government which is usually termed mixed has
always appeared to me to be a mere chimera. Accurately
speaking there is no such thing as a mixed government (with
the meaning usually given to that word), because in all communities some one principle of action may be discovered
which preponderates over the others. England in the last century, which has been more especially cited as an example of
this form of Government, was in point of fact an essentially
aristocratic State, although it comprised very powerful elements of democracy; for the laws and customs of the coun*No one will assert that a people cannot forcibly wrong another people; but parties may be looked upon as lesser nations within a greater one, and they are aliens to each other:
if, therefore, it be admitted that a nation can act tyrannically
towards another nation, it cannot be denied that a party may
do the same towards another party.

try were such that the aristocracy could not but preponderate in the end, and subject the direction of public affairs to
its own will. The error arose from too much attention being
paid to the actual struggle which was going on between the
nobles and the people, without considering the probable issue of the contest, which was in reality the important point.
When a community really has a mixed government, that is
to say, when it is equally divided between two adverse principles, it must either pass through a revolution or fall into
complete dissolution.
I am therefore of opinion that some one social power must
always be made to predominate over the others; but I think
that liberty is endangered when this power is checked by no
obstacles which may retard its course, and force it to moderate its own vehemence.
Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing;
human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion, and God alone can be omnipotent, because His wisdom and His justice are always equal to His power. But no
power upon earth is so worthy of honor for itself, or of reverential obedience to the rights which it represents, that I

would consent to admit its uncontrolled and all-predominant authority. When I see that the right and the means of
absolute command are conferred on a people or upon a king,
upon an aristocracy or a democracy, a monarchy or a republic, I recognize the germ of tyranny, and I journey onward to
a land of more hopeful institutions.
In my opinion the main evil of the present democratic
institutions of the United States does not arise, as is often
asserted in Europe, from their weakness, but from their overpowering strength; and I am not so much alarmed at the
excessive liberty which reigns in that country as at the very
inadequate securities which exist against tyranny.
When an individual or a party is wronged in the United
States, to whom can he apply for redress? If to public opinion, public opinion constitutes the majority; if to the legislature, it represents the majority, and implicitly obeys its injunctions; if to the executive power, it is appointed by the
majority, and remains a passive tool in its hands; the public
troops consist of the majority under arms; the jury is the
majority invested with the right of hearing judicial cases;
and in certain States even the judges are elected by the ma-

jority. However iniquitous or absurd the evil of which you

complain may be, you must submit to it as well as you can.*
*A striking instance of the excesses which may be occasioned by
the despotism of the majority occurred at Baltimore in the year
1812. At that time the war was very popular in Baltimore. A journal which had taken the other side of the question excited the
indignation of the inhabitants by its opposition. The populace
assembled, broke the printing-presses, and attacked the houses of
the newspaper editors. The militia was called out, but no one
obeyed the call; and the only means of saving the poor wretches
who were threatened by the frenzy of the mob was to throw them
into prison as common malefactors. But even this precaution was
ineffectual; the mob collected again during the night, the magistrates again made a vain attempt to call out the militia, the prison
was forced, one of the newspaper editors was killed upon the spot,
and the others were left for dead; the guilty parties were acquitted
by the jury when they were brought to trial.
I said one day to an inhabitant of Pennsylvania, Be so good as
to explain to me how it happens that in a State founded by Quakers, and celebrated for its toleration, freed blacks are not allowed
to exercise civil rights. They pay the taxes; is it not fair that they
should have a vote?
You insult us, replied my informant, if you imagine that our
legislators could have committed so gross an act of injustice and
What! then the blacks possess the right of voting in this county?
Without the smallest doubt.
How comes it, then, that at the polling-booth this morning I
did not perceive a single negro in the whole meeting?


Democracy in America
This is not the fault of the law: the negroes have an undisputed
right of voting, but they voluntarily abstain from making their
A very pretty piece of modesty on their parts! rejoined I.
Why, the truth is, that they are not disinclined to vote, but
they are afraid of being maltreated; in this country the law is sometimes unable to maintain its authority without the support of the
majority. But in this case the majority entertains very strong prejudices against the blacks, and the magistrates are unable to protect
them in the exercise of their legal privileges.
What! then the majority claims the right not only of making
the laws, but of breaking the laws it has made?

If, on the other hand, a legislative power could be so constituted as to represent the majority without necessarily being the slave of its passions; an executive, so as to retain a
certain degree of uncontrolled authority; and a judiciary, so
as to remain independent of the two other powers; a government would be formed which would still be democratic without incurring any risk of tyrannical abuse.
I do not say that tyrannical abuses frequently occur in
America at the present day, but I maintain that no sure barrier is established against them, and that the causes which
mitigate the government are to be found in the circumstances
and the manners of the country more than in its laws.
Effects of the Unlimited Power of the Majority upon the
Arbitrary Authority of the American Public Officers
Liberty left by the American laws to public officers within a
certain sphere Their power.
A distinction must be drawn between tyranny and arbitrary
power. Tyranny may be exercised by means of the law, and

in that case it is not arbitrary; arbitrary power may be exercised for the good of the community at large, in which case
it is not tyrannical. Tyranny usually employs arbitrary means,
but, if necessary, it can rule without them.
In the United States the unbounded power of the majority, which is favorable to the legal despotism of the legislature, is likewise favorable to the arbitrary authority of the
magistrate. The majority has an entire control over the law
when it is made and when it is executed; and as it possesses
an equal authority over those who are in power and the community at large, it considers public officers as its passive
agents, and readily confides the task of serving its designs to
their vigilance. The details of their office and the privileges
which they are to enjoy are rarely defined beforehand; but
the majority treats them as a master does his servants when
they are always at work in his sight, and he has the power of
directing or reprimanding them at every instant.
In general the American functionaries are far more independent than the French civil officers within the sphere which
is prescribed to them. Sometimes, even, they are allowed by
the popular authority to exceed those bounds; and as they

are protected by the opinion, and backed by the co-operation, of the majority, they venture upon such manifestations
of their power as astonish a European. By this means habits
are formed in the heart of a free country which may some
day prove fatal to its liberties.
Power Exercised by the Majority in America upon Opinion
In America, when the majority has once irrevocably decided
a question, all discussion ceases Reason of this Moral
power exercised by the majority upon opinion Democratic
republics have deprived despotism of its physical instruments
Their despotism sways the minds of men.
It is in the examination of the display of public opinion in
the United States that we clearly perceive how far the power
of the majority surpasses all the powers with which we are
acquainted in Europe. Intellectual principles exercise an influence which is so invisible, and often so inappreciable, that
they baffle the toils of oppression. At the present time the

Democracy in America
most absolute monarchs in Europe are unable to prevent
certain notions, which are opposed to their authority, from
circulating in secret throughout their dominions, and even
in their courts. Such is not the case in America; as long as the
majority is still undecided, discussion is carried on; but as
soon as its decision is irrevocably pronounced, a submissive
silence is observed, and the friends, as well as the opponents,
of the measure unite in assenting to its propriety. The reason
of this is perfectly clear: no monarch is so absolute as to combine all the powers of society in his own hands, and to conquer all opposition with the energy of a majority which is
invested with the right of making and of executing the laws.
The authority of a king is purely physical, and it controls
the actions of the subject without subduing his private will;
but the majority possesses a power which is physical and
moral at the same time; it acts upon the will as well as upon
the actions of men, and it represses not only all contest, but
all controversy. I know no country in which there is so little
true independence of mind and freedom of discussion as in
America. In any constitutional state in Europe every sort of
religious and political theory may be advocated and propa-

gated abroad; for there is no country in Europe so subdued

by any single authority as not to contain citizens who are
ready to protect the man who raises his voice in the cause of
truth from the consequences of his hardihood. If he is unfortunate enough to live under an absolute government, the
people is upon his side; if he inhabits a free country, he may
find a shelter behind the authority of the throne, if he require one. The aristocratic part of society supports him in
some countries, and the democracy in others. But in a nation where democratic institutions exist, organized like those
of the United States, there is but one sole authority, one single
element of strength and of success, with nothing beyond it.
In America the majority raises very formidable barriers to
the liberty of opinion: within these barriers an author may
write whatever he pleases, but he will repent it if he ever step
beyond them. Not that he is exposed to the terrors of an
auto-da-fe, but he is tormented by the slights and persecutions of daily obloquy. His political career is closed forever,
since he has offended the only authority which is able to
promote his success. Every sort of compensation, even that
of celebrity, is refused to him. Before he published his opin292

ions he imagined that he held them in common with many
others; but no sooner has he declared them openly than he is
loudly censured by his overbearing opponents, whilst those
who think without having the courage to speak, like him,
abandon him in silence. He yields at length, oppressed by
the daily efforts he has been making, and he subsides into
silence, as if he was tormented by remorse for having spoken
the truth.
Fetters and headsmen were the coarse instruments which
tyranny formerly employed; but the civilization of our age
has refined the arts of despotism which seemed, however, to
have been sufficiently perfected before. The excesses of monarchical power had devised a variety of physical means of
oppression: the democratic republics of the present day have
rendered it as entirely an affair of the mind as that will which
it is intended to coerce. Under the absolute sway of an individual despot the body was attacked in order to subdue the
soul, and the soul escaped the blows which were directed
against it and rose superior to the attempt; but such is not
the course adopted by tyranny in democratic republics; there
the body is left free, and the soul is enslaved. The sovereign

can no longer say, You shall think as I do on pain of death;

but he says, You are free to think differently from me, and
to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess;
but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an
alien among your people. You may retain your civil rights,
but they will be useless to you, for you will never be chosen
by your fellow-citizens if you solicit their suffrages, and they
will affect to scorn you if you solicit their esteem. You will
remain among men, but you will be deprived of the rights of
mankind. Your fellow-creatures will shun you like an impure being, and those who are most persuaded of your innocence will abandon you too, lest they should be shunned in
their turn. Go in peace! I have given you your life, but it is
an existence in comparably worse than death.
Monarchical institutions have thrown an odium upon despotism; let us beware lest democratic republics should restore oppression, and should render it less odious and less
degrading in the eyes of the many, by making it still more
onerous to the few.
Works have been published in the proudest nations of the
Old World expressly intended to censure the vices and de293

Democracy in America
ride the follies of the times; Labruyere inhabited the palace
of Louis XIV when he composed his chapter upon the Great,
and Moliere criticised the courtiers in the very pieces which
were acted before the Court. But the ruling power in the
United States is not to be made game of; the smallest reproach irritates its sensibility, and the slightest joke which
has any foundation in truth renders it indignant; from the
style of its language to the more solid virtues of its character,
everything must be made the subject of encomium. No writer,
whatever be his eminence, can escape from this tribute of
adulation to his fellow-citizens. The majority lives in the
perpetual practice of self-applause, and there are certain truths
which the Americans can only learn from strangers or from
If great writers have not at present existed in America, the
reason is very simply given in these facts; there can be no
literary genius without freedom of opinion, and freedom of
opinion does not exist in America. The Inquisition has never
been able to prevent a vast number of anti-religious books
from circulating in Spain. The empire of the majority succeeds much better in the United States, since it actually re-

moves the wish of publishing them. Unbelievers are to be

met with in America, but, to say the truth, there is no public
organ of infidelity. Attempts have been made by some governments to protect the morality of nations by prohibiting
licentious books. In the United States no one is punished for
this sort of works, but no one is induced to write them; not
because all the citizens are immaculate in their manners, but
because the majority of the community is decent and orderly.
In these cases the advantages derived from the exercise of
this power are unquestionable, and I am simply discussing
the nature of the power itself. This irresistible authority is a
constant fact, and its judicious exercise is an accidental occurrence.


Effects of the Tyranny of the Majority upon the National
Character of the Americans
Effects of the tyranny of the majority more sensibly felt hitherto in the manners than in the conduct of society They
check the development of leading characters Democratic
republics organized like the United States bring the practice
of courting favor within the reach of the many Proofs of
this spirit in the United States Why there is more patriotism in the people than in those who govern in its name.
The tendencies which I have just alluded to are as yet very
slightly perceptible in political society, but they already begin to exercise an unfavorable influence upon the national
character of the Americans. I am inclined to attribute the
singular paucity of distinguished political characters to the
ever-increasing activity of the despotism of the majority in
the United States. When the American Revolution broke out
they arose in great numbers, for public opinion then served,
not to tyrannize over, but to direct the exertions of individuals. Those celebrated men took a full part in the general agi-

tation of mind common at that period, and they attained a

high degree of personal fame, which was reflected back upon
the nation, but which was by no means borrowed from it.
In absolute governments the great nobles who are nearest
to the throne flatter the passions of the sovereign, and voluntarily truckle to his caprices. But the mass of the nation
does not degrade itself by servitude: it often submits from
weakness, from habit, or from ignorance, and sometimes from
loyalty. Some nations have been known to sacrifice their own
desires to those of the sovereign with pleasure and with pride,
thus exhibiting a sort of independence in the very act of submission. These peoples are miserable, but they are not degraded. There is a great difference between doing what one
does not approve and feigning to approve what one does;
the one is the necessary case of a weak person, the other
befits the temper of a lackey.
In free countries, where everyone is more or less called
upon to give his opinion in the affairs of state; in democratic
republics, where public life is incessantly commingled with
domestic affairs, where the sovereign authority is accessible
on every side, and where its attention can almost always be

Democracy in America
attracted by vociferation, more persons are to be met with
who speculate upon its foibles and live at the cost of its passions than in absolute monarchies. Not because men are naturally worse in these States than elsewhere, but the temptation
is stronger, and of easier access at the same time. The result is
a far more extensive debasement of the characters of citizens.
Democratic republics extend the practice of currying favor
with the many, and they introduce it into a greater number
of classes at once: this is one of the most serious reproaches
that can be addressed to them. In democratic States organized on the principles of the American republics, this is
more especially the case, where the authority of the majority
is so absolute and so irresistible that a man must give up his
rights as a citizen, and almost abjure his quality as a human
being, if te intends to stray from the track which it lays down.
In that immense crowd which throngs the avenues to power
in the United States I found very few men who displayed
any of that manly candor and that masculine independence
of opinion which frequently distinguished the Americans in
former times, and which constitutes the leading feature in

distinguished characters, wheresoever they may be found. It

seems, at first sight, as if all the minds of the Americans were
formed upon one model, so accurately do they correspond
in their manner of judging. A stranger does, indeed, sometimes meet with Americans who dissent from these rigorous
formularies; with men who deplore the defects of the laws,
the mutability and the ignorance of democracy; who even
go so far as to observe the evil tendencies which impair the
national character, and to point out such remedies as it might
be possible to apply; but no one is there to hear these things
besides yourself, and you, to whom these secret reflections
are confided, are a stranger and a bird of passage. They are
very ready to communicate truths which are useless to you,
but they continue to hold a different language in public.
If ever these lines are read in America, I am well assured
of two things: in the first place, that all who peruse them
will raise their voices to condemn me; and in the second
place, that very many of them will acquit me at the bottom
of their conscience.
I have heard of patriotism in the United States, and it is a
virtue which may be found among the people, but never

among the leaders of the people. This may be explained by
analogy; despotism debases the oppressed much more than
the oppressor: in absolute monarchies the king has often great
virtues, but the courtiers are invariably servile. It is true that
the American courtiers do not say Sire, or Your Majesty
a distinction without a difference. They are forever talking
of the natural intelligence of the populace they serve; they
do not debate the question as to which of the virtues of their
master is pre-eminently worthy of admiration, for they assure him that he possesses all the virtues under heaven without having acquired them, or without caring to acquire them;
they do not give him their daughters and their wives to be
raised at his pleasure to the rank of his concubines, but, by
sacrificing their opinions, they prostitute themselves. Moralists and philosophers in America are not obliged to conceal
their opinions under the veil of allegory; but, before they
venture upon a harsh truth, they say, We are aware that the
people which we are addressing is too superior to all the weaknesses of human nature to lose the command of its temper
for an instant; and we should not hold this language if we
were not speaking to men whom their virtues and their in-

telligence render more worthy of freedom than all the rest of

the world. It would have been impossible for the sycophants
of Louis XIV to flatter more dexterously. For my part, I am
persuaded that in all governments, whatever their nature may
be, servility will cower to force, and adulation will cling to
power. The only means of preventing men from degrading
themselves is to invest no one with that unlimited authority
which is the surest method of debasing them.
The Greatest Dangers of the American Republics Proceed from the Unlimited Power of the Majority
Democratic republics liable to perish from a misuse of their
power, and not by impotence The Governments of the American republics are more centralized and more energetic than those
of the monarchies of Europe Dangers resulting from this
Opinions of Hamilton and Jefferson upon this point.
Governments usually fall a sacrifice to impotence or to tyranny. In the former case their power escapes from them; it is
wrested from their grasp in the latter. Many observers, who

Democracy in America
have witnessed the anarchy of democratic States, have imagined that the government of those States was naturally weak
and impotent. The truth is, that when once hostilities are
begun between parties, the government loses its control over
society. But I do not think that a democratic power is naturally without force or without resources: say, rather, that it is
almost always by the abuse of its force and the
misemployment of its resources that a democratic government fails. Anarchy is almost always produced by its tyranny
or its mistakes, but not by its want of strength.
It is important not to confound stability with force, or the
greatness of a thing with its duration. In democratic republics, the power which directs* society is not stable; for it often changes hands and assumes a new direction. But whichever way it turns, its force is almost irresistible. The Governments of the American republics appear to me to be as much
centralized as those of the absolute monarchies of Europe,
and more energetic than they are. I do not, therefore, imag*This power may be centred in an assembly, in which case it
will be strong without being stable; or it may be centred in
an individual, in which case it will be less strong, but more

ine that they will perish from weakness.*

If ever the free institutions of America are destroyed, that
event may be attributed to the unlimited authority of the
majority, which may at some future time urge the minorities
to desperation, and oblige them to have recourse to physical
force. Anarchy will then be the result, but it will have been
brought about by despotism.
Mr. Hamilton expresses the same opinion in the Federalist, No. 51. It is of great importance in a republic not only
to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but
to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the
other part. Justice is the end of government. It is the end of
civil society. It ever has been, and ever will be, pursued until
it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. In a
society, under the forms of which the stronger faction can
readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly
be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker
*I presume that it is scarcely necessary to remind the reader
here, as well as throughout the remainder of this chapter,
that I am speaking, not of the Federal Government, but of
the several governments of each State, which the majority
controls at its pleasure.

individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger:
and as in the latter state even the stronger individuals are
prompted by the uncertainty of their condition to submit to
a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves, so in the former state will the more powerful factions
be gradually induced by a like motive to wish for a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as well as the
more powerful. It can be little doubted that, if the State of
Rhode Island was separated from the Confederacy and left
to itself, the insecurity of right under the popular form of
government within such narrow limits would be displayed
by such reiterated oppressions of the factious majorities, that
some power altogether independent of the people would soon
be called for by the voice of the very factions whose misrule
had proved the necessity of it.
Jefferson has also thus expressed himself in a letter to Madison:* The executive power in our Government is not the
only, perhaps not even the principal, object of my solicitude.
The tyranny of the Legislature is really the danger most to
be feared, and will continue to be so for many years to come.

The tyranny of the executive power will come in its turn,

but at a more distant period. I am glad to cite the opinion
of Jefferson upon this subject rather than that of another,
because I consider him to be the most powerful advocate
democracy has ever sent forth.

Chapter XVI: Causes Mitigating Tyranny in the

United States Part I
Chapter Summary
The national majority does not pretend to conduct all business Is obliged to employ the town and county magistrates
to execute its supreme decisions.
I have already pointed out the distinction which is to be
made between a centralized government and a centralized
administration. The former exists in America, but the latter
is nearly unknown there. If the directing power of the American communities had both these instruments of government
at its disposal, and united the habit of executing its own com-

*March 15, 1789.


Democracy in America
mands to the right of commanding; if, after having established the general principles of government, it descended to
the details of public business; and if, having regulated the
great interests of the country, it could penetrate into the privacy of individual interests, freedom would soon be banished from the New World.
But in the United States the majority, which so frequently
displays the tastes and the propensities of a despot, is still
destitute of the more perfect instruments of tyranny. In the
American republics the activity of the central Government
has never as yet been extended beyond a limited number of
objects sufficiently prominent to call forth its attention. The
secondary affairs of society have never been regulated by its
authority, and nothing has hitherto betrayed its desire of interfering in them. The majority is become more and more
absolute, but it has not increased the prerogatives of the central government; those great prerogatives have been confined
to a certain sphere; and although the despotism of the majority may be galling upon one point, it cannot be said to
extend to all. However the predominant party in the nation
may be carried away by its passions, however ardent it may

be in the pursuit of its projects, it cannot oblige all the citizens to comply with its desires in the same manner and at
the same time throughout the country. When the central
Government which represents that majority has issued a decree, it must entrust the execution of its will to agents, over
whom it frequently has no control, and whom it cannot perpetually direct. The townships, municipal bodies, and counties may therefore be looked upon as concealed break-waters, which check or part the tide of popular excitement. If
an oppressive law were passed, the liberties of the people
would still be protected by the means by which that law
would be put in execution: the majority cannot descend to
the details and (as I will venture to style them) the puerilities
of administrative tyranny. Nor does the people entertain that
full consciousness of its authority which would prompt it to
interfere in these matters; it knows the extent of its natural
powers, but it is unacquainted with the increased resources
which the art of government might furnish.
This point deserves attention, for if a democratic republic
similar to that of the United States were ever founded in a
country where the power of a single individual had previ300

ously subsisted, and the effects of a centralized administration had sunk deep into the habits and the laws of the people,
I do not hesitate to assert, that in that country a more insufferable despotism would prevail than any which now exists
in the monarchical States of Europe, or indeed than any which
could be found on this side of the confines of Asia.
The Profession of the Law in the United States Serves to
Counterpoise the Democracy
Utility of discriminating the natural propensities of the members of the legal profession These men called upon to act a
prominent part in future society -In what manner the peculiar pursuits of lawyers give an aristocratic turn to their ideas
-Accidental causes which may check this tendency Ease
with which the aristocracy coalesces with legal men Use of
lawyers to a despot The profession of the law constitutes
the only aristocratic element with which the natural elements
of democracy will combine Peculiar causes which tend to
give an aristocratic turn of mind to the English and American lawyers The aristocracy of America is on the bench

and at the bar Influence of lawyers upon American society

Their peculiar magisterial habits affect the legislature, the
administration, and even the people.
In visiting the Americans and in studying their laws we perceive that the authority they have entrusted to members of
the legal profession, and the influence which these individuals exercise in the Government, is the most powerful existing
security against the excesses of democracy. This effect seems
to me to result from a general cause which it is useful to
investigate, since it may produce analogous consequences
The members of the legal profession have taken an important part in all the vicissitudes of political society in Europe
during the last five hundred years. At one time they have
been the instruments of those who were invested with political authority, and at another they have succeeded in converting political authorities into their instrument. In the
Middle Ages they afforded a powerful support to the Crown,
and since that period they have exerted themselves to the
utmost to limit the royal prerogative. In England they have

Democracy in America
contracted a close alliance with the aristocracy; in France
they have proved to be the most dangerous enemies of that
class. It is my object to inquire whether, under all these circumstances, the members of the legal profession have been
swayed by sudden and momentary impulses; or whether they
have been impelled by principles which are inherent in their
pursuits, and which will always recur in history. I am incited
to this investigation by reflecting that this particular class of
men will most likely play a prominent part in that order of
things to which the events of our time are giving birth.
Men who have more especially devoted themselves to legal pursuits derive from those occupations certain habits of
order, a taste for formalities, and a kind of instinctive regard
for the regular connection of ideas, which naturally render
them very hostile to the revolutionary spirit and the
unreflecting passions of the multitude.
The special information which lawyers derive from their
studies ensures them a separate station in society, and they
constitute a sort of privileged body in the scale of intelligence.
This notion of their superiority perpetually recurs to them in
the practice of their profession: they are the masters of a sci-

ence which is necessary, but which is not very generally known;

they serve as arbiters between the citizens; and the habit of
directing the blind passions of parties in litigation to their
purpose inspires them with a certain contempt for the judgment of the multitude. To this it may be added that they naturally constitute a body, not by any previous understanding, or
by an agreement which directs them to a common end; but
the analogy of their studies and the uniformity of their proceedings connect their minds together, as much as a common
interest could combine their endeavors.
A portion of the tastes and of the habits of the aristocracy
may consequently be discovered in the characters of men in
the profession of the law. They participate in the same instinctive love of order and of formalities; and they entertain
the same repugnance to the actions of the multitude, and
the same secret contempt of the government of the people. I
do not mean to say that the natural propensities of lawyers
are sufficiently strong to sway them irresistibly; for they, like
most other men, are governed by their private interests and
the advantages of the moment.
In a state of society in which the members of the legal

profession are prevented from holding that rank in the political world which they enjoy in private life, we may rest
assured that they will be the foremost agents of revolution.
But it must then be inquired whether the cause which induces them to innovate and to destroy is accidental, or
whether it belongs to some lasting purpose which they entertain. It is true that lawyers mainly contributed to the overthrow of the French monarchy in 1789; but it remains to be
seen whether they acted thus because they had studied the
laws, or because they were prohibited from co-operating in
the work of legislation.
Five hundred years ago the English nobles headed the
people, and spoke in its name; at the present time the aristocracy supports the throne, and defends the royal prerogative. But aristocracy has, notwithstanding this, its peculiar
instincts and propensities. We must be careful not to confound isolated members of a body with the body itself. In all
free governments, of whatsoever form they may be, members of the legal profession will be found at the head of all
parties. The same remark is also applicable to the aristocracy; for almost all the democratic convulsions which have

agitated the world have been directed by nobles.

A privileged body can never satisfy the ambition of all its
members; it has always more talents and more passions to
content and to employ than it can find places; so that a considerable number of individuals are usually to be met with
who are inclined to attack those very privileges which they
find it impossible to turn to their own account.
I do not, then, assert that all the members of the legal
profession are at all times the friends of order and the opponents of innovation, but merely that most of them usually
are so. In a community in which lawyers are allowed to occupy, without opposition, that high station which naturally
belongs to them, their general spirit will be eminently conservative and anti-democratic. When an aristocracy excludes
the leaders of that profession from its ranks, it excites enemies which are the more formidable to its security as they
are independent of the nobility by their industrious pursuits;
and they feel themselves to be its equal in point of intelligence, although they enjoy less opulence and less power. But
whenever an aristocracy consents to impart some of its privileges to these same individuals, the two classes coalesce very

Democracy in America
readily, and assume, as it were, the consistency of a single
order of family interests.
I am, in like manner, inclined to believe that a monarch
will always be able to convert legal practitioners into the most
serviceable instruments of his authority. There is a far greater
affinity between this class of individuals and the executive
power than there is between them and the people; just as
there is a greater natural affinity between the nobles and the
monarch than between the nobles and the people, although
the higher orders of society have occasionally resisted the
prerogative of the Crown in concert with the lower classes.
Lawyers are attached to public order beyond every other
consideration, and the best security of public order is authority. It must not be forgotten that, if they prize the free
institutions of their country much, they nevertheless value
the legality of those institutions far more: they are less afraid
of tyranny than of arbitrary power; and provided that the
legislature take upon itself to deprive men of their independence, they are not dissatisfied.
I am therefore convinced that the prince who, in presence
of an encroaching democracy, should endeavor to impair the

judicial authority in his dominions, and to diminish the political influence of lawyers, would commit a great mistake.
He would let slip the substance of authority to grasp at the
shadow. He would act more wisely in introducing men connected with the law into the government; and if he entrusted
them with the conduct of a despotic power, bearing some
marks of violence, that power would most likely assume the
external features of justice and of legality in their hands.
The government of democracy is favorable to the political
power of lawyers; for when the wealthy, the noble, and the
prince are excluded from the government, they are sure to
occupy the highest stations, in their own right, as it were,
since they are the only men of information and sagacity, beyond the sphere of the people, who can be the object of the
popular choice. If, then, they are led by their tastes to combine with the aristocracy and to support the Crown, they are
naturally brought into contact with the people by their interests. They like the government of democracy, without
participating in its propensities and without imitating its
weaknesses; whence they derive a twofold authority, from it

and over it. The people in democratic states does not mistrust the members of the legal profession, because it is well
known that they are interested in serving the popular cause;
and it listens to them without irritation, because it does not
attribute to them any sinister designs. The object of lawyers
is not, indeed, to overthrow the institutions of democracy,
but they constantly endeavor to give it an impulse which
diverts it from its real tendency, by means which are foreign
to its nature. Lawyers belong to the people by birth and interest, to the aristocracy by habit and by taste, and they may
be looked upon as the natural bond and connecting link of
the two great classes of society.
The profession of the law is the only aristocratic element
which can be amalgamated without violence with the natural elements of democracy, and which can be advantageously
and permanently combined with them. I am not unacquainted with the defects which are inherent in the character of that body of men; but without this admixture of lawyer-like sobriety with the democratic principle, I question
whether democratic institutions could long be maintained,
and I cannot believe that a republic could subsist at the present

time if the influence of lawyers in public business did not

increase in proportion to the power of the people.
This aristocratic character, which I hold to be common to
the legal profession, is much more distinctly marked in the
United States and in England than in any other country.
This proceeds not only from the legal studies of the English
and American lawyers, but from the nature of the legislation, and the position which those persons occupy in the
two countries. The English and the Americans have retained
the law of precedents; that is to say, they continue to found
their legal opinions and the decisions of their courts upon
the opinions and the decisions of their forefathers. In the
mind of an English or American lawyer a taste and a reverence for what is old is almost always united to a love of regular and lawful proceedings.
This predisposition has another effect upon the character
of the legal profession and upon the general course of society. The English and American lawyers investigate what has
been done; the French advocate inquires what should have
been done; the former produce precedents, the latter reasons. A French observer is surprised to hear how often an

Democracy in America
English dr an American lawyer quotes the opinions of others, and how little he alludes to his own; whilst the reverse
occurs in France. There the most trifling litigation is never
conducted without the introduction of an entire system of
ideas peculiar to the counsel employed; and the fundamental principles of law are discussed in order to obtain a perch
of land by the decision of the court. This abnegation of his
own opinion, and this implicit deference to the opinion of
his forefathers, which are common to the English and American lawyer, this subjection of thought which he is obliged to
profess, necessarily give him more timid habits and more
sluggish inclinations in England and America than in France.
The French codes are often difficult of comprehension,
but they can be read by every one; nothing, on the other
hand, can be more impenetrable to the uninitiated than a
legislation founded upon precedents. The indispensable want
of legal assistance which is felt in England and in the United
States, and the high opinion which is generally entertained
of the ability of the legal profession, tend to separate it more
and more from the people, and to place it in a distinct class.
The French lawyer is simply a man extensively acquainted

with the statutes of his country; but the English or American lawyer resembles the hierophants of Egypt, for, like them,
he is the sole interpreter of an occult science.
The station which lawyers occupy in England and America
exercises no less an influence upon their habits and their
opinions. The English aristocracy, which has taken care to
attract to its sphere whatever is at all analogous to itself, has
conferred a high degree of importance and of authority upon
the members of the legal profession. In English society lawyers do not occupy the first rank, but they are contented
with the station assigned to them; they constitute, as it were,
the younger branch of the English aristocracy, and they are
attached to their elder brothers, although they do not enjoy
all their privileges. The English lawyers consequently mingle
the taste and the ideas of the aristocratic circles in which
they move with the aristocratic interests of their profession.
And indeed the lawyer-like character which I am endeavoring to depict is most distinctly to be met with in England:
there laws are esteemed not so much because they are good
as because they are old; and if it be necessary to modify them
in any respect, or to adapt them the changes which time

operates in society, recourse is had to the most inconceivable
contrivances in order to uphold the traditionary fabric, and
to maintain that nothing has been done which does not square
with the intentions and complete the labors of former generations. The very individuals who conduct these changes
disclaim all intention of innovation, and they had rather resort to absurd expedients than plead guilty to so great a crime.
This spirit appertains more especially to the English lawyers;
they seem indifferent to the real meaning of what they treat,
and they direct all their attention to the letter, seeming inclined to infringe the rules of common sense and of humanity rather than to swerve one title from the law. The English
legislation may be compared to the stock of an old tree, upon
which lawyers have engrafted the most various shoots, with
the hope that, although their fruits may differ, their foliage
at least will be confounded with the venerable trunk which
supports them all.
In America there are no nobles or men of letters, and the
people is apt to mistrust the wealthy; lawyers consequently
form the highest political class, and the most cultivated circle
of society. They have therefore nothing to gain by innova-

tion, which adds a conservative interest to their natural taste

for public order. If I were asked where I place the American
aristocracy, I should reply without hesitation that it is not
composed of the rich, who are united together by no common tie, but that it occupies the judicial bench and the bar.
The more we reflect upon all that occurs in the United
States the more shall we be persuaded that the lawyers as a
body form the most powerful, if not the only, counterpoise
to the democratic element. In that country we perceive how
eminently the legal profession is qualified by its powers, and
even by its defects, to neutralize the vices which are inherent
in popular government. When the American people is intoxicated by passion, or carried away by the impetuosity of
its ideas, it is checked and stopped by the almost invisible
influence of its legal counsellors, who secretly oppose their
aristocratic propensities to its democratic instincts, their superstitious attachment to what is antique to its love of novelty, their narrow views to its immense designs, and their
habitual procrastination to its ardent impatience.
The courts of justice are the most visible organs by which
the legal profession is enabled to control the democracy. The

Democracy in America
judge is a lawyer, who, independently of the taste for regularity and order which he has contracted in the study of legislation, derives an additional love of stability from his own
inalienable functions. His legal attainments have already
raised him to a distinguished rank amongst his fellow-citizens